A nasty invitationMao Zedong had enjoyed the special privilege of waving his hand to the People’s Liberation Army while standing atop Tiananmen fortress. Other founding members of China, including Zhou Enlai, Liu Shaoqi and Gao Gang, attended the parade but they were not allowed to wave: They could only clap alongside Mao. Chinese writer Yu Hua noticed the difference between the paramount leader and the other leaders.
“Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun,” said Mao.
From 1949 to 1959, he held annual military parades in Tiananmen Square. During the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, he stood atop Tiananmen fortress. This time, instead of inspecting the People’s Liberation Army, he waved to the Red Guards, mostly in their teens.
Deng Xiaoping revived the tradition of the military parade in Tiananmen in 1984. He had pushed out Mao’s designated successor, Hua Guofeng, and won in a struggle against conservatives such as Chin Win to establish himself as the leader of China. The military parade was a ritual that declared the strength of Deng’s regime.
Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao held military parades to mark the 50th and 60th anniversaries of the People’s Republic of China. As the power succession in China became systematic, the cycle of military parades became a custom. According to this custom, the next military parade should be in 2019 for the 70th anniversary. However, Xi Jinping is holding a large-scale military parade on Sept. 3, less than three years into his administration. It is proof that he has fully dominated the powers, including military, in three years.
Here, we need to pay attention to the justification for celebrating the 70th anniversary of the victory of the Chinese People’s War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression and the World Anti-Fascist War. Xi has invited heads of states to the military parade. Unlike the previous parades, which were strictly domestic celebrations, Xi’s military parade has international political significance. To my knowledge, the only foreign leader to attend a military parade at Tiananmen in history was former king of Cambodia Norodom Sihanouk, a close friend of Mao.
Who would oppose celebrating victory against fascists, the mutual enemy of mankind? But the real world is more complicated. Attendance at the military parade is considered a measure of closeness to China, or distance from the United States.
President Park Geun-hye must be in a dilemma. Having praised Korea-China relations as the best in history and emphasized personal trust with President Xi, President Park cannot simply turn down the invitation. China is also paying special attention to Park. What the Korean government secretly hopes for is for other countries to take the lead, as with the joining of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. But there are no signs yet. We cannot ignore the connotation of President Park standing in Tiananmen as the only leader of a major Western ally on the day of the military parade. Korean diplomacy is increasingly demanded to take a side.
Just as the foreign minister said, it is a kind invitation, yet an uncomfortable one indeed.
The author is the Beijing correspondent for the JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 4, Page 30
by YEH YOUNG-JUNE