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China 50 years of communism Friday, 1 October, 1999, 13:56 GMT 14:56 UK
Analysis: Jiang's day of glory
rockets
The parade showed off China's advanced military hardware
By the BBC's Chinese Affairs Analyst James Miles in Beijing

An honour guard goose-stepped across Tiananmen Square as canons fired a 50 gun salute - one salvo for each year of the communist state's existence.

China: 50 years of communism / Revolution Glossary
Around them 100,000 people waved paper flowers in red, yellow, green and blue forming vast Chinese characters spelling "Long live the Republic".

This was a government-organised display of nationalist fervour such as Beijing had not witnessed in 15 years .

For China's President Jiang Zemin, the 50th anniversary of the communist nation's founding was an occasion of tremendous political importance.

In his first ever speech from Tiananmen Square, where Chairman Mao declared the founding of the People's Republic, Mr Jiang stressed the country's commitment to communism and the cause of reunification with Taiwan.

Although he formally took charge of the Chinese Communist Party a decade ago and has been head of state for the last six years, this is the first major national celebration at which he has occupied centre stage.

Ordinary citizens were kept away from the parade. With record numbers being laid off work and separatist movements simmering in Tibet and Chinese Central Asia, police are afraid of sabotage.

The event was as crucial an affirmation of Mr Jiang's political stature as the National Day celebrations of 1984 were for China's then paramount leader Deng Xiaoping.

Comparisons with Deng

Jiang Zemin during the 50th anniversary
Jiang Zemin inspecting troops
President Jiang is no doubt eager for comparisons to be drawn between himself and the late Mr Deng.

At the time of China's 35th anniversary in 1984, Mr Deng was at the height of his political power.

He had swept aside remnant Maoists in the leadership. He had launched far-reaching and widely-acclaimed economic reforms in the countryside.

And he had reached a deal with Britain on the handover of Hong Kong.

The military parade on 1 October that year was his way of showing the nation that he was confident and in charge.

Mr Jiang wanted to deliver the same message.

In 1997 many observers were astonished that a man with so little experience in the Politburo and with no military background could be chosen by Mr Deng and his fellow veterans to lead such a factious party.

To many Chinese and foreigners alike he appeared a political lightweight.

But since Mr Deng's death in February 1997, he has overseen a remarkably smooth transition to a political power structure that for the first time since the communist take-over is not overshadowed by revolutionaries who founded the People's Republic.

He presided over the handover of Hong Kong.

He re-established top-level exchanges with the United States that had been suspended since Tiananmen.

Military hardware

He has crushed domestic political opposition while continuing to push China towards the establishment of an open, capitalist-oriented economy.

police checks
Security has been tight during the celebrations
The military parade in Beijing involved some of China's most advanced military hardware, much of it on public display for the first time.

It included cruise missiles and the intercontinental Dong-Feng 31 ballistic missile, capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to Alaska, which was successfully tested for the first time only last August.

The parade was the first in Beijing in 15 years and a rare opportunity for China's normally secretive military to show off its hardware.

The equipment it displayed was clearly far more advanced than what it put on parade during the 1984 celebrations.

There is no doubt that one of China's intended messages is that it is a power to be reckoned with, and one capable of dealing with any country, particularly the USA, which might obstruct its aim to reunify with Taiwan.

Difficult times

Nevertheless, Mr Jiang will have difficulty projecting the same image of confident, stable leadership that Mr Deng was able to convey during the 1984 celebrations.

Chinese war games
Chinese war games have failed to persuade Taiwan to re-unite
Despite his political achievements in the last decade, Mr Jiang has shown signs in recent months of hesitation and uncertainty in the face of a series of unexpected crises.

These have ranged from the surrounding of the party headquarters in April by thousands of members of a mystical sect to the Nato bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in May and Taiwan's declaration in July that it wanted to be treated by China as a separate state, not a rebel province.

China's economic outlook also looks bleak. Growth is slowing, deflation is pushing large numbers of firms towards bankruptcy, unemployment is soaring and citizens are fearful of spending because of the growing cost of health care, education and housing.

In the next two or three years, Mr Jiang faces difficult times politically as he prepares to hand over at least some of his power to a younger leadership.

In 2003 he is constitutionally obliged to step down as president.

Doubtless there will be some in the party who will argue that given his age, he should also give up his other jobs as party and military chief.

The party's 16th congress in 2002 would be an obvious occasion to do that.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Audio
The BBC's James Miles interviews Beijing residents old and young about the anniversary
Video
The BBC's Adam Brookes: "China sees itself as a new world power"
Audio
James Miles reports on the celebrations
See also:

19 Feb 98 | Analysis
10 Sep 99 | Asia-Pacific
15 Jul 99 | Asia-Pacific
14 Sep 99 | The Economy
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