— Julie Makinen (@JulieMakLAT) September 2, 2015
Ahead of China’s World War II victory parade in Beijing on Thursday, official preparations have been running on overdrive for weeks. In the digital realm, central propaganda authorities last week directed news websites to keep reports on the parade and related reader commentary “sunny” and positive through September 5, popular censorship circumvention tools were stymied in a Great Firewall reinforcement campaign, and a self-proclaimed Party member (and suspected “volunteer 50-center“) called on patriotic Weibo-users to “take your goose-steps, safeguard the parade with your fingertips, and be participants of the cyber parade.”
In the physical world, preparation has also long been underway. Last month, temporary measures were enacted to force the capital city’s infamous air pollution into retreat—a move that has become customary ahead of internationally significant events, having in the past resulted in “APEC blue” skies, and promises of an “Olympic blue” hue when Beijing hosts the 2022 Olympics. (This most recent round of anti-pollution measures has proven successful, and the term “military parade blue” has already been coined.) According to Xinhua, “Beijing has mobilized 850,000 residents to patrol the city to ensure security,” some of whom appear to be on higher guard than others:
In effort to guarantee clear airspace for a demonstration of the PLA’s aerial capabilities fit to wow the many foreign dignitaries in attendance, the Chinese air force has been utilizing unconventional reinforcements on the ground: falcons, macaque monkeys, and hunting dogs. The Wall Street Journal’s Yang Jie reports:
The “three treasures,” which have also been enlisted to protect some military sites on a daily basis, will join the protection team for Beijing’s Sept. 3 military parade as well as the practice sessions ahead of it, base director Wang Yuejian told the PLA news portal jz.81.cn.
The timing of the parade happens to coincide with the season when young birds are leaving the nest and filling the skies, leading to more pressure to ensure the safety of the air force, according to Mr. Wang.
Birds often pose a threat to aircraft because they can be sucked into the engine and strike the fan blades, causing collisions.
While a PLA official described the use of monkeys as an “ecological” solution to stray avifauna, members of the scientific and bird-watching communities find this unorthodox approach to be highly problematic. At Science, Christina Larson reports:
Scientists and birdwatchers knowledgeable about the East Asian-Australasian Flyway—which spans 22 countries and is arguably the world’s most threatened flyway—question both the utility and the ecological logic of PLA’s scheme.
Spike Millington, chief executive of the nonprofit East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership, based in Incheon, South Korea, says that indiscriminate nest removal is not conducive to the army’s stated objective: “Small birds are not a threat to planes, only larger species like gulls and geese are usually involved in airstrikes.”
Nor is nest destruction without environmental impacts, though the consequences for migratory birds depend on the timing. For nests dismantled by monkeys in the spring, when birds lay eggs and feed young, “such an approach would likely result in quite high mortality [of nestlings, young birds too young to fly] and also in temporary abandonment of the colony, leading to reduced breeding success,” says Nial Moores, an independent researcher and director of the nonprofit Birds Korea in Busan. [Source]
Several major Beijing hospitals have also been shut down by authorities for the parade. The Wall Street Journal’s Olivia Geng and William Kazer report:
Hospitals that will be turning away most patients are Beijing Hospital, Peking Union Medical College Hospital and Tongren Hospital, which normally see thousands of outpatients each day. They will be shut starting late Wednesday as part of an extended holiday that includes the “Chinese People’s Anti-Japanese War and the World Anti-Fascist War Victory Commemoration Day.” Beijing Hospital and Peking Union will not reopen for outpatients until Saturday – when they will open for half a day.
All of these hospitals, which are among the best in Beijing, are in the center of the city – not right in the middle of the parade route up Chang’An Avenue, but close enough. Other hospitals are expected to pick up the slack.
While many Chinese hospitals halt or limit outpatient services on holidays, the closures are unusual. Moreover, emergency services will also be effectively halted to the man in the street. Most patients won’t be able to get through the security cordons that have sprung up in the center of the city as authorities try to ensure that the parade goes according to plan.
An official at Beijing Hospital said no emergency medical services will be available to the public on parade day. An official of the Peking Medical College Hospital said emergency services will be for those in the parade – meaning soldiers – as well as dignitaries. Most of the hospital’s doctors will stay home – like a lot of other people in Beijing. [Source]
China’s top media regulator also ordered all broadcasters to clear their schedules for five days of commemorative programming, and footage of the parade itself can be expected to fill much of the mandated open space. CBS News reports:
State TV was allowed to see the final rehearsals. Twelve-thousand troops will be taking part, and some of the newest military equipment will be unveiled. The parade will commemorate the end of WWII, with special emphasis on the Japanese surrender. Japan and China have had a frosty diplomatic relationship for years.
“It’s a made-for-TV military parade, and absolutely nothing can go wrong,” said Richard McGregor, author of “The Party,” which examines the ruling communist regime.
“This is the largest military parade in modern Chinese history… It says in many respects that China has arrived — not just as an economic power, but a global military and diplomatic power as well,” McGregor added.
But it comes at a tough time. The deadly industrial blast in Tianjin and the slipping Chinese stock market have exposed government weaknesses.
“I think the parade, in as much as party needs distraction, is a fantastic distraction,” McGregor said. [Source]
Xi Jinping’s recent pardoning of jailed war veterans ahead of the parade had also been cited as an effort to reinforce faltering presidential authority amid the ongoing financial turmoil. The parade—which breaks tradition, as the fourteen previous grand military parades to be held since the PRC’s founding have all fallen on October 1, China’s “National Day”—is indeed suspected by many to be another “coming out party,” this time highlighting China’s emerging military might. Experts and military insiders have suggested that the parade will foreshadow soon-to-be-unveiled military reforms.