The Abbott government’s embarrassing confusion on its multibillion-dollar program to build new submarines just got a little clearer, with news coming from Chinese media that the country will hold an unprecedented military parade on September 3 to “celebrate” the 70th anniversary of the Allied victory over Japan.

For the past 35 years, China has only held such parades for each 10-year anniversary of the founding of modern China, when the Communist Party claimed victory over the Nationalist Party government on October 1, 1949. This parade, uniquely, is designed to “ make Japan tremble”. It would be funny if it weren’t so delusional.

In many ways, this is the coronation of Emperor Xi Jinping, China’s most powerful leader since Deng Xiaoping — perhaps even Mao Zedong himself. It is also a warning to the region that China is arming up, and fast, although its military budget still remains a fraction of the United States’.

On October 1, 1984 — to commemorate the 35th anniversary of National Day — the parade was reviewed by Deng Xiaoping. He was not the official party chief but paramount leader and chair of the Central Military Commission.  The 50th anniversary in 1999 was reviewed by Jiang Zemin, Deng’s successor; and the 60th anniversary, in 2009, by Jiang’s successor Hu Jintao, who looked for all the world like a Thunderbird as he waved, standing stiffly in his black, roofless locally built sedan.

But Xi Jinping — general secretary of the Party, chairman of the Central Military Commission and President of the country — has opted not to announce his succession to the world on the PRC’s 65th birthday, but the 70th anniversary of VJ (Victory Japan) Day, on September 3, according to reports.

It has also been stated that foreign dignitaries will be invited for the first time. Yet who would show up? Vladimir Putin, perhaps. Surely all the important visitors will be at home, quietly remembering those who paid the ultimate price, especially given the dwindling number of WWII veterans and the fact Japan is now friendly with all the countries that defeated it in the war.

There is a question, too, about who will be most intimidated by China’s sabre-rattling — Japan or less militarily capable neighbours such as the Philippines, Vietnam or Indonesia?

In Kevin Rudd’s 2009 Defence White Paper, China was named as a potential threat and the recommendation was that Australia purchase submarines to effectively block access through the Indonesian archipelago. This caused a storm in Beijing and, in the subsequent 2011 White Paper, the government walked away from that language in deference to Beijing, with whom Australia has had better military than political ties in recent years.

News of the parade also pulls focus on the much-maligned US pivot which has suddenly gained traction after Barack Obama’s wildly successful visit to India in late January. India, which has its own Act East policy, an aircraft carrier and whose population is set to overtake China’s this decade, is now in play. And resuscitation of the four-way alliance between India, the US, Japan and Australia has been suggested by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

India accorded Barack Obama the rare honour of being special guest on its National Day, one that it shares with Australia on January 26. The official joint statement between the two countries announced the finalisation of the 2015 Framework for the US-India Defence Relationship, which will guide and expand the bilateral defence and strategic partnership over the next 10 years.

In addition, the US-India Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) will increase co-production, co-development and partnership in US-India military-industrial matters. Bringing Modi’s plan to expand domestic production of military hardware one big step closer.

China continues to have border disputes with India in the Himalayas dating back to the brief war between the two sides in 1962 — a war that China “won” — but the nation was clearly piqued by the most significant visit by a US President to India arguably since its independence from the United Kingdom in 1947. Typically, China dismissed the visit as a “superficial rapprochement”.

Not so, most seasoned observers say, and Modi has been invited for a return visit to the US this year; he is already booked in to visit China this coming May. India, so long the outlying rising power in Asia, is now well and truly in play thanks to its diplomatically active new Prime Minster.

And there’s more. This week, it was announced by US National Security Adviser Susan Rice that Xi will visit US in September, his second trip in less than three years as leader. And all of this puts paid somewhat to those cynics who have dismissed the US pivot to Asia. Drawing India in on mutually beneficial terms, for now, is just the latest foreign policy triumph for Obama, coming on the heels of his landmark deal for closer ties with Cuba.

With nothing to lose and less than two years left now as US Commander in Chief, Obama is following Bill Clinton’s path of nailing down significant achievements offshore in his so-called “lame duck” period.

It must be said that the Abbott government’s focus on India has kept Australia well in the game, but the unanswered question of what to do about China in terms of national security as the US looks to stitch up a ring of allies around the rising Asian power — let’s not kid ourselves about where this is going — now only gets more vexing.

For now, it remains to be seen what the Abbott government’s Defence White Paper — now to be produced by the hapless, hopeless Kevin Andrews (should the PM stay in the chair) — has to say about our largest trading partner. Is the new Tony still up for some shirt-fronting?

Peter Fray

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