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China's split-screen: Hong Kong protests vs. Communist celebration

Xi Jinping (R) awards the Medal of the Republic to Li Yannian for combat bravery. Photo: Sheng Jiapeng/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images

Ceremonies will begin shortly in Beijing to mark the 70th anniversary of communist China — a showcase intended to underline the power of the country, the party and President Xi Jinping.

The flipside: It will be a split-screen affair, with much of the world’s attention focused on protests in Hong Kong that are expected to be among the largest and most dramatic to date.

What to watch: The stage-managed parade will involve some 300,000 participants and an exhibition of military might, including 15,000 soldiers, 160 aircraft, and weapons that have never before been displayed publicly.

  • Those weapons likely include a new ICBM, "Dongfeng-41," that could reach the U.S., along with two new types of drone, a new lightweight tank, and an updated long-range bomber, per the Washington Post's Anna Fifield.
  • This year's ceremony will carry extra significance, Fifield notes: the Soviet Union collapsed a year before its 70th birthday.

Flashback: “National Day commemorates Oct. 1, 1949, when Mao appeared on the same balcony on the Gate of Heavenly Peace that Mr. Xi will on Tuesday and proclaimed the formation of the People’s Republic of China,” per the NYT.

  • China was far weaker then and Communist control less secure. Xi, who has returned party ideology to the heart of Chinese politics and education, will surely evoke 1949 while emphasizing China’s development since.
  • But the protests come as the trade war with the U.S. bites and growth prospects dim. The West is growing more wary of China, and the roar from Hong Kong is growing louder.

Police in the semi-autonomous city say they’re bracing for a “violent attack,” per Reuters.

  • Protests over the weekend included dozens of arrests, tear gas, fires and signs and graffiti comparing Chinese leadership to Nazis.
  • Authorities in Hong Kong are desperate to avoid scenes on Tuesday that will overshadow the celebrations in Beijing. But Hong Kongers have a public holiday, just like mainlanders, and are expected to gather in massive numbers.
  • Zoom out: We have yet to see a direct crackdown from China in Hong Kong, but according to a Reuters investigation the number of Chinese military personnel in the city has more than doubled since the protests began 3 months ago.

The big picture: Over the past 70 years, China has progressed from a weak and impoverished nation to one that has seen millions rise from poverty and rivals the U.S. for global influence. Under Xi, it has risen while pioneering new modes of control and repression.

  • Views of the carefully orchestrated ceremonies will, therefore, vary widely depending on where one sits.