BEIJING (AP) — In an unusual step, China's insular military will invite foreign armed forces to take part in a lavish military parade in Beijing this fall marking the 70th anniversary of victory over Japan in World War II, an official said Thursday.
Defense Ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng told reporters that foreign government and military leaders would be invited as observers. Members of their armed forces would be welcome to march in the parade, Geng said.
The comments were the ministry's first official remarks on the long-anticipated event.
The parade plans have drawn speculation that Beijing wants to emphasize what it sees as a lack of Japanese contrition for its wartime aggression, and its warnings that Tokyo continues to threaten the region — in part to distract from Beijing's own growing assertion of territorial claims in the region.
That combination of factors may make foreign militaries hesitant about participating if they risk being seen as endorsing China's perspective.
Geng said the parade aimed not to celebrate the victory, but to memorialize victims of the conflict that China refers to as "The Chinese People's War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression."
"Through the military parade, China hopes to demonstrate our firm stance, join hands with the rest of the world, safeguard the victorious outcome of World War II, maintain world peace and stability and create a better future for mankind," Geng said at a monthly news conference.
Geng said the parade will take place on or around the Sept. 2 anniversary of Japan's formal surrender, but that plans are still being drawn up. China's Foreign Ministry has also confirmed the event but released few details.
Invitations will go out to countries that fought in the conflict as well as some with no direct connection, Geng said, without mentioning individual nations by name.
The participation of foreign armed forces is almost unprecedented for such events, which in the past have taken place once per decade to mark the founding of the People's Republic on Oct. 1, 1949. China invited 21 vessels from 14 countries to take part in a ceremonial naval display on National Day in 2009.
The parades feature aerial displays and China's latest weaponry rolling down Beijing's main boulevard, passing by Tiananmen Square, where the People's Liberation Army violently crushed student-led pro-democracy protests in 1989.
Despite China's enthusiasm for the event, numerous questions surround the issue of foreign participation. Some among the U.S. and its allies might view China as a potential future adversary and thus feel awkward about accepting the invitation.
Geng declined to comment on whether invitations would be issued to Japan, whose prime minister, Shinzo Abe, is loathed in China for his hawkish views, or to Taiwan, regarded by China's ruling Communist Party as a renegade province since it drove Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists — who had battled Japan for eight years on the mainland — to the island in 1949.