Blog: The difficult road to reporting on China’s WWII commemorations

President Xi Jinping is sparing no expense for the event, and nothing has been left to chance.


Twelve thousand soldiers have been practising their goosesteps for months, their movements guided by Chinese-built satellites.

And just a few hundred metres in front of us, their last minute rehearsals are perfectly precise, and of course patriotic.

Military hardware including fighter jets, attack helicopters, missile launchers and tanks will all be on display in a few short hours.

As I write, 850,000 security personnel and volunteers are mobilising.

It’s a parade to impress, to say the least.

Cameraman Edoardo Falcione and I arrived in Beijing two days ago, like 1400 other registered media, upon invitation from the Chinese government.

But the road to covering this spectacle hasn’t been easy.

Huge security restrictions are in place, we’ve been met with resistance from police and military trying to cover the lead up to today.

Hotel security is more than tight: X-ray machines, metal detectors, body frisks. Nothing is missed.

Until this morning, filming has been restricted and even now sitting in an assigned media area, we are being heavily monitored.

We left our hotel six hours before the event was scheduled to start to get clearance, and later were bused to the site.

Huge areas around Tiananmen Square have been effectively shut down, for what Mr Xi has declared a national holiday.

Those living near the stage have been given strict warnings to stay away from their windows, while most of the country’s 1.3 billion people have been barred from the parade route altogether.

To stop pollution spoiling the day, many factories were shut down and traffic halved weeks ago.

We arrived to blue skies in Beijing – an unusual sight.

But most locals will have to view the first parade of Mr Xi’s leadership on their televisions.

Many western leaders have snubbed the event, amid heightened tensions in the East and South China seas.

US president Barack Obama won’t be here, or Britain’s David Cameron, or Angela Merkel.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott won’t be either, sending Veterans Affairs Minister Michael Ronaldson instead.

Having hosted Mr Xi for Russia’s own military parade, Vladimir Putin will be here, as well as 30 other world leaders – from South Korea to key ally Pakistan.

Unsurprisingly, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe won’t attend, with many seeing the parade as a display from China for what it sees as Japan’s refusal to atone over wartime acts.

China has rejected charges the event amounts to muscle flexing, but sitting just a few hundred metres from thousands of eerily still soldiers, now finished their rehearsal chanting, one has to wonder.

It’s almost a feeling of bewilderment as the larger media pack waits in searing heat for Mr Xi – the commander of the world’s biggest army – to arrive.

Dignitaries are just starting to roll in.

As Chinese stocks plummet, and the fallout continues from Tianjin’s chemical explosion, it really is the President’s chance to impress.

A leader insisting this event is about reconciliation and healing, but one his own people can’t be part of.

Soldiers rehearsing in Tiananmen Square ahead of Victory Day parade in Beijing @SBSNews pic.twitter韩国半永久纹眉会所,/eUTEgjl7vH

— Alyshia Gates (@alyshiagates) September 2, 2015

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