THE BLOG

How Victorious was China's Victory Parade? -- The Potential Dangers of Looking Back

21/09/2015 12:44 BST | Updated 12/09/2016 10:12 BST

As seamlessly as Beijing's recent parade that commemorated China's World War II victory over Japan went, how victorious was the victory parade, really? Are there negative ramifications?

The parade is significant both nationally and internationally. Within China, the parade sparked a new wave of nationalism. Not only were roads decorated with national flags and large motto boards to mark the occasion, regular television and radio programs were also replaced by "special" nationalist (in particular, anti-Japan) series to penetrate into people's lives. At the individual level of society, not every citizen is manipulated by state media; yet, with virtually the entire workforce (most already educated in a nationalistic setting) on public holiday and numerous public services suspended, many citizens simply had nothing more fulfilling to do than to listen to stories of Japan's wartime atrocities and China's valiant defeat of the enemy.

Although this nationalism doesn't qualify as the potentially peace-threatening "hypernationalism" discussed by Mearsheimer, it may lead to criticism that China disrespects human rights by exploiting the media to explicitly suggest ways in which its people should think about the war, despite the fact that wars could be considered from different angles in the postwar period. Whilst remembering a country's past and commemorating war victims is extremely important to its future generations, wouldn't it be dangerous if this occasion were regarded by other international players as a carefully-crafted nationalism scheme -- a political strategy that China employs, ignoring the price tag of manipulating its own people?

Moreover, to accommodate its showcase of various self-defense mechanisms, the government tightened censorship, temporarily restricted the number of days people could drive to reduce pollution, and limited Tian'anmen area residents' cooking routine to reduce risk of fire incidents. Arguably, whilst urging the world to remember Japanese wartime atrocities, China ironically violated human rights norms in its own territory.

In part, the parade celebrated China's sovereignty from Japanese colonization. Since sovereignty, according to Jackson, comes in two components: internal and external, and is both constant and continuous, China's endeavors in maintaining (and perhaps strengthening) the international recognition of its 70-year-old sovereignty may be justified by Jackson's argument.

Meanwhile, it's perhaps contradictory that although the parade's stated goals were to celebrate the Chinese people's victory and their pursuit of long-lasting global peace, the very core of the parade was a demonstration of China's military strength to the world, and, as some argue, particularly to its neighbor Japan (partly evidenced by how the rare blue sky in Beijing was nicknamed "the anti-Japan blue"). This may remind us of Hobbes and the neorealist assumption of self-interest: China acts in its self interest in securing better survival in our complicated world by highlighting its rising power to the rest of the world, claiming that the displayed military manpower and weaponry serve defensive purposes. Yet, on a global stage, would it not provoke other sovereign nation's self-interest to play the tit-for-tat game with China? Although China names itself a "friendly global power", what would happen if equally (or more) powerful global hegemonies regard this as a sign of aggression instead of a commitment to conserve peace?

This raises further questions that we must contemplate as a peace-cherishing international community. Balancing how much we look back and how much we look forward can be a challenge -- after all, looking back too much may prevent one from looking forward on this interrelated and interdependent international stage.