Thousands of goose-stepping soldiers marched past the tomb of Vietnam’s founding president Ho Chi Minh yesterday as part of the country’s largest military display in years.
The parade, part of a ceremony for the city of Hanoi’s millennium celebrations, is a display of national pride that also sends a subtle message to China, with the two sides in dispute over territory in the South China Sea, an analyst said.
A cross-section of society including workers, youth, ethnic and religious groups joined the parade, which officials said involved almost 40,000 people.
“A lot of blood flowed ... to have a Hanoi as we have today,” Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet told the gathering. “The Vietnamese people love peace ... but do not submit to brute force and violence.”
The display began under overcast skies when 10 Russian-made military helicopters flew past carrying the national flag and the communist hammer-and-sickle banner.
Communist Party leaders waved from their perch atop Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum as white-gloved troops and police in an array of green, blue, white and brown uniforms followed in tightly formed blocks.
The troops included fatigue-clad special forces members with assault rifles and ethnic--minority militia women in traditional dress with rifles slung over their shoulders.
There were no heavy weapons and the military component occupied only a part of the 90--minute program which included lion dances and depictions of Vietnamese history.
However, the parade sends a message that “Vietnam is not a place that you want to attack,” said Carl Thayer, a Vietnam specialist at The University of New South Wales in Australia.
Much of Vietnam’s military hardware is antiquated but it is seeking to upgrade its forces as the sovereignty dispute simmers with China.
In December, Vietnam and Russia signed a major arms deal reported to involve the purchase of six submarines.
That agreement was followed in July by Russia’s announcement that it would sell 20 Sukhoi SU-30MK2 fighter planes to Vietnam.
Hanoi last week demanded the release of a vessel and its crew seized by China one month ago while fishing in the Paracels archipelago.
The two sides have conflicting claims to sovereignty over the Paracels and Spratlys, two potentially resource-rich archipelagos in the South China Sea.
Although the dispute is a long-running one, China’s increasingly assertive presence has sparked concern not only in Vietnam but neighboring nations as well as the US.
Vietnam routinely celebrates major anniversaries with pomp and ceremony as a way for the ruling party to affirm its legitimacy, but also to help shape national identity and pride, said Thayer.
For Nguyen Thi Binh, deputy head of a high school, the parade showed “our military power. I feel very moved.”
Thousands crowded city streets hoping to catch a glimpse of the procession and many, such as Nguyen Van Tuan, 42, had come from the countryside.
“It was a 1,000-year opportunity to watch,” Tuan said.
Vietnam has a proud military tradition dating back more than 1,000 years to the defeat of Chinese occupiers. More recently, communist forces defeated French -colonialists in 1954 and then beat the US to reunify the country in 1975.
“The military is popular. It’s a people’s army,” Thayer said.
King Ly Thai To moved the capital of Vietnam to Hanoi in 1010 and called it Thang Long, or “soaring dragon,” symbolizing the desire for independence after a millennium of Chinese domination.