- Biggest propaganda event since 2008 Beijing Olympics
- Roads, parks, airport to close in unprecedented restrictions
China’s image makers are taking unprecedented measures to make sure a volatile stock market and a deadly blast in Tianjin don’t distract from President Xi Jinping’s message of national unity surrounding a military parade on Thursday.
Xi’s government finds itself beset with challenges as the parade nears, including faltering economic growth, questions about safety regulation after the Tianjin blast that killed at least 158 people, and concerns about the outlook for the stock market, whose plunge wiped out $5 trillion in global stock value. That trouble compares to Beijing’s last major international event, the 2008 Summer Olympics, when China was riding high as western economies reeled from the international financial crisis.
“Xi will be very concerned that nothing goes wrong as this is a government that really wants to be seen to be given ‘face’ internationally and is trying to shore up its image to the Chinese population after a year of disasters,” said Anne-Marie Brady, a professor at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand, who studies Chinese propaganda.
The event marking 70th anniversary of Japan’s World War II defeat gives Xi a global platform to present his “Chinese Dream” of national rejuvenation and international influence when he gives a speech before the pageant begins. While the parade will feature 12,000 troops and modern weapons system in a display of military muscle, concern that Xi’s broader message risks being overshadowed helps explain the extent of measures unveiled to ensure the parade’s success.
Stabilizing the stock market ranks high among them. What happens in China’s market has a growing influence on public perceptions of the government’s economic management. With more than 90 million individuals holding stock accounts, equity investors are now a bigger constituency than the Communist Party. Spurred by encouragement in the country’s official media, retail investors piled into stocks, driving the Shanghai Composite Index up more than 150 percent in the year before its June peak.
It’s since plunged more than a third, shocking retail investors who felt betrayed after state media talked up the market. Authorities last week revived their market intervention to halt the sell-off, eager to stabilize equities before the parade, according to people familiar with the matter.
The government has also been willing to sacrifice industrial output for the sake of clear skies. More than 12,000 industrial plants suspended operations and the government restricted the days people could drive their cars, giving Beijingers welcome respite from smog.
To make sure the message gets through, the government has curtailed television programming that doesn’t hit the theme of the parade or China’s victory in World War II. State media have also repeatedly highlighted the event as a historically significant occasion.
“It will be a grand ceremony to connect China and the world, to convey a message of peace,” the official Xinhua News Agency wrote Tuesday. “The ceremony is an embrace between a confident and open China and the world.”
Officials have even sought to rid the skies of birds. The state-run China Daily newspaper showed soldiers deploying monkeys, falcons and dogs to scare birds from the flight path of the nearly 200 planes that will fly over the capital.
And for good reason: The impact caused by a bird weighing 1.8 kilograms colliding with a plane flying at 700 kilometers (435 miles) per hour is greater than that of a military shell, the paper said.
The unprecedented security restrictions have brought irritation for Beijing residents. Areas immediately around Tiananmen Square and Changan Avenue, where the parade will run, will be closed to traffic, with a large swathe of the city under a security umbrella.
Seven public parks will be shut, some large hospitals will halt operations, and subway Line 1, which transits underneath Changan Avenue, won’t run. The city’s two main airports will close during the event.
“We cannot meet our friends like before,” Marie Tam, 32, an account director at an advertising agency, said of vehicle restrictions. “The grand display there only reflects the fact that the government is very rich and what I paid for in my taxes is being used by state leaders to show off.”
(A previous version of this story was corrected to say Beijing Olympics were in 2008.)
For more, read this QuickTake: China’s Pain Points