China holds massive military parade to commemorate WWII victory

China held a massive military parade to commemorate victory over Japan in World War II, displaying its military might on an unprecedented scale.

Beijing marked the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II with its biggest ever display of military, an event shunned by most Western leaders including China’s former wartime allies, the United States and UK. China’s confidence in its armed forces and growing military assertiveness, especially in the disputed South China Sea, has rattled the region and drawn criticism from Washington.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, who presided over the ceremony on Thursday, said that China would remain committed to the path of “peaceful development” and unexpectedly pledged to cut 300,000 troops from its 2.3 million strong military. The parade was the first since Xi came to power in 2012.

The country’s most powerful leader in decades paid tribute to “the Chinese people who unwaveringly fought hard and defeated aggression” from Japan.

More than 30 foreign government officials and heads of state including Russian President Vladmir Putin and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon attended the event at Tiananmen Square, in the ancient heart of Beijing. However, many Western leaders and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have stayed away.

Hundreds of ballistic missiles, tanks, amphibious assault vehicles, drones and other military equipment were paraded past gathered leaders, veterans and guests. Moreover, nearly 200 fighter jets took to the skies, and 70,000 doves and balloons were released above Tiananmen Square.

Among the 12,000 troops were contingents from Russia, Pakistan and 15 other countries. Most of the war machinery on display was being shown to the public for the first time, according to state media.

China’ growing military power is being keenly watched amid regional tensions. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is the world’s largest military, with 2.3 million members. China also has the second biggest defense budget after the United States.

Japan launched a full-scale invasion of China in 1937, killing 14 million Chinese over eight years of intense fighting. IMAGE/Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

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