Speaking on the Tiananmen Rostrum where Mao Zedong declared the formation of the People’s Republic in 1949, Xi said “total victory” over Japan “restored China’s status as a major country in the world”.
After a 70-gun salute thousands of troops — including a detachment from Russia, whose President Vladimir Putin was the highest-profile foreign guest — marched in formation through the square, with tanks and missiles following and a flypast by around 200 aircraft in blue skies overhead.
Xi said that Beijing will “not seek hegemony” and China’s military — the largest in the world — would be reduced by 300,000 troops.
Authorities have previously made personnel cuts to the 2.3 million strong People’s Liberation Army in a bid to make it a more efficient fighting force.
Beijing officially calls the conflict the Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and World Anti-Fascist War, and regularly criticises Tokyo for what it says is insufficient contrition over wartime atrocities.
But it has repeatedly insisted the parade was not aimed at any particular country, including Japan.
“The unyielding Chinese people fought gallantly and finally won total victory against the Japanese militarist aggressors, thus preserving China’s 5,000-year-old civilisation and upholding the cause of peace,” Xi said.
He described the conflict as “a decisive battle between justice and evil, between light and darkness”.
The equipment on show for the first time included DF-21D missiles, an anti-ship ballistic missile seen as a “carrier-killer” that could alter the balance of power with the US in the Pacific Ocean.
A commentator on Chinese television described the weapon as a “trump card”.
Under Xi, Beijing is moving farther away from former leader Deng Xiaoping’s dictum to “hide one’s capabilities, bide one’s time” and is becoming more willing to take harder lines, both externally and against domestic opponents.
Putin was given a prominent position next to Xi on the rostrum, as were ranks of former Chinese leaders, including Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao.
Also present were leaders of Kazakhstan and Venezuela, as well as Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir — indicted by the International Criminal Court — and authoritarian Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko.
More mainstream guests included South Korea’s Park Geun-Hye, whose country was colonised by Japan, Jacob Zuma of South Africa — which with China is part of the BRICS groups of major emerging economies -– and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Pakistan’s President Mamnoon Hussain was also present at the parade.