Military display is latest effort by President Xi Jinping to improve standing as party leadership shuffle looms
(WSJ )BEIJING—China unveiled a new, more mobile intercontinental ballistic missile at a parade of advanced weaponry and combat troops, in President Xi Jinping’s latest display of military—and political—muscle.
State television showed at least 16 DF-31AG missiles in Sunday’s parade at the Zhurihe combat-training base in northern China, marking the 90th anniversary of the founding of the force that is now known as the People’s Liberation Army.
The DF-31AG is mounted on an all-terrain vehicle so it is harder to track and can be fired from multiple locations, and it could have a longer range than the older DF-31A, which was also displayed and is carried by a vehicle designed mainly for roads, military experts say.
Mr. Xi, wearing combat fatigues and a peaked cap, inspected the troops from an open-top military vehicle before the parade, which featured tanks, helicopters, stealth jet fighters and some 12,000 personnel.
“The world is not peaceful,” Mr. Xi in a speech afterward that invoked his signature political idea of a “China Dream” to build the country into a global economic and military power. “Today we are closer than any other period in history to the goal of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation and we need more than any period in history to build a strong people’s military.”
Mr. Xi also ordered troops to obey the Communist Party leadership, saying: “Wherever the party points, march there.”
It is the first time a parade has been held to mark the anniversary since 1949, according to state media, and is the latest in a series of moves that analysts say are designed to boost Mr. Xi’s political standing in the run-up to a reshuffle of the party’s leadership this year.
The parade also came amid escalating military tensions in the region, with North Korea accelerating its nuclear-weapons program since January through a series of tests, including the launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile Friday.
U.S. President Donald Trump has warned repeatedly that he is weighing military action to halt North Korea’s nuclear program, and in recent weeks has become increasingly critical of China, accusing them of failing to rein in Pyongyang. The U.S. Air Force flew two B-1B bombers over the Korean Peninsula on Saturday in direct response to North Korea’s latest missile test.
“I am very disappointed in China. Our foolish past leaders have allowed them to make hundreds of billions of dollars a year in trade, yet they do NOTHING for us with North Korea, just talk,” Mr. Trump wrote in a pair of posts on his Twitter account. “We will no longer allow this to continue. China could easily solve this problem!”
China’s parade would have been planned months in advance, analysts said, and wasn’t a direct response to Pyongyang or Washington, but it demonstrated Mr. Xi’s efforts to build a military that can respond to external challenges—including on the Korean Peninsula.
Last year, the Chinese leader launched sweeping military reforms—including cutting 300,000 troops—that are designed to overhaul Soviet-modeled command structures and better prepare the armed forces for combat, at home and abroad if needed.
The PLA is training for scenarios that include a conflict over the disputed South China Sea, a blockade of China’s oil supplies through the Indian Ocean, and operations to protect its citizens and investments in Africa and the Middle East.
Mr. Xi has also sought to assert his authority over the PLA through an anticorruption campaign that ensnared several current and retired generals, and by assuming the new title of “commander-in-chief” last year.
In June, he inspected PLA troops stationed in Hong Kong in another move to boost his political stature ahead of this fall’s 19th Party Congress, where he’s expected to try to promote allies to the top leadership.
“By presiding over a landmark parade for a party-loyal PLA growing leaner and meaner by his orders, Xi shows that he is large and in charge in the run-up to the 19th Congress,” said Andrew Erickson, an expert on China’s military at the U.S. Naval War College. “Debuting publicly such a powerful, penetrating deterrent weapon as the DF-31AG ICBM seeks to demonstrate that China commands heightened respect abroad even as it maintains order at home—both central components of Xi’s China Dream.”
China hasn’t provided any details about the DF-31AG, but a model was displayed for the first time this month in an exhibition at Beijing’s Military Museum. Analysts say the missile’s design and name suggest it is an improved version of the DF-31A, but beyond its improved survivability and possibly longer range, it remains unclear what the enhancements are.
China has an estimated 75 to 100 intercontinental ballistic missiles, including the solid-fueled DF-31A, which has a range of more than 7000 miles and can reach most locations in the continental U.S., according to the Pentagon.
Other equipment in the parade included five J-20 stealth jet fighters and several DF-21D antiship ballistic missiles, which experts say are designed to hit approaching U.S. aircraft carriers in a potential conflict.
Chinese state television said more than 40 percent of the equipment in the parade was being displayed for the first time, but didn’t provide details of every piece of new weaponry.
Troops in the parade came from the army, navy and air force but also from two new services created about 18 months ago—the rocket force, which controls conventional and nuclear missiles, and the strategic support force, which handles electronic warfare.
Electronic weaponry on display included equipment designed for electromagnetic countermeasures and aerial drones that can be used for radar-jamming, state television said, without providing details.
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