24 October 2016
A formation of military helicopters flies in an unusually blue sky above roads almost empty of private vehicles on Thursday. Photo: Reuters
A formation of military helicopters flies in an unusually blue sky above roads almost empty of private vehicles on Thursday. Photo: Reuters

China’s military parade reveals what people really want

After months of preparation and mobilization, China’s most important political event this year finally came to pass.

The first military parade along Chang’an Avenue since 2009 saw 12,000 officers and troops of the People’s Liberation Army marching under the inspection of President Xi Jinping and many foreign leaders and guests.

For the first time, foreign troops from 17 countries joined the veterans and Chinese army formations.

Speaking at the event marking China’s victory in World War II, the Chinese leader announced plans to cut 300,000 from its current military strength of more than two million troops.

For sure, the implications of the 90-minute parade are multiple and long-lasting.

China observers have been busy analyzing the effects of the V-Day celebration from many perspectives that include politics, diplomacy and military.

People are wondering why China held such a high-profile celebration, why it announced the military cutback at this event, why North Korean leader Kim Yong-un didn’t attend and why China refrained from showcasing some of its most advanced weaponry at the parade.

However, the significance of the parade should be more than just political or military.

If you carefully read through China’s two most popular social media platforms – Weibo and WeChat – you will find there are two other hot topics about the parade that netizens talked about.

One is that the parade brought many businesses in the capital to a standstill.

Many roads and some subway lines were either blocked or suspended by authorities to give way to the parade.

Gas stations, shops and entertainment venues in areas near the parade site were asked to close. No wonder many small business owners were complaining, with some dismissing the parade as a GDP killer.

They are most likely right: Beijing sacrificed a lot of its economic development to hold the celebrations.

The Chinese capital had been controlling road traffic and flights in the run up to the parade. It also ordered a number of industries, especially coal-consuming enterprises, to close weeks before the event.

Beijing also adopted the odd-even scheme for cars, a policy the city had put in place during the 2008 Summer Olympics.

There is no doubt all these measures put a lot of stress on the normal run of daily business. As a result, the economy is likely to be affected.

But lots of people welcomed the measures.

On social media platforms, people posted pictures of Beijing’s blue skies and smooth vehicular traffic to show a combination of emotions that included happiness, satisfaction, excitement and pleasant surprise.

For a metropolis that is famous for its “Peking Smog”, the experience of having more than 10 days of excellent air quality, with a PM2.5 reading of mostly below 50, surely provided a good reason to celebrate, probably a better reason than the parade itself.

Similarly, for urbanites in Beijing, who have been suffering the horrible traffic jams all the time, the almost empty ring roads that allowed drivers to speed up to the limit of 80 kilometers per hour were a rare blessing.

In fact, many Beijingers are hoping the temporary measures adopted for the celebrations can be extended indefinitely so they can continue to enjoy the “Parade Blue (sky)” and “Parade (free) Traffic”.

If we compare these two sentiments – the disappointment over the slow business and the elation over the better quality over city life – it is quite clear that their sense of jubilation far exceeded their feeling of frustration.

This offers an insight into what Chinese people, especially those in the big cities, really want. And this is something Chinese policymakers must look into.

Since people don’t really care about GDP figures, why should our leaders focus too much on economic growth?

It’s really time to change the country’s economic structure and improve the quality of life instead of pursuing ambitious economic targets.

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The writer is an economic commentator. He writes mostly on business issues in Greater China.

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