TAIPEI, Taiwan – Fighter jets streaked across overcast skies and combat vehicles rumbled Wednesday as Taiwan showed off its might in the island's first National Day military parade in 16 years.
Taiwan stopped such parades following its transformation to democracy in the early 1990s. The then leaders denounced public displays of military prowess as cold-war remnants that could hamper efforts to improve relations with communist-ruled China.
Before the parade, President Chen Shui-bian denounced China for still practicing "totalitarianism" despite its growing economic and political clout in recent years.
He also renewed his vow to seek membership in the United Nations, saying Beijing could not represent Taiwan's 23 million people at the world body.
Chen denounced China's rapid military expansion and urged the world to persuade Beijing to dismantle the hundreds of missiles it has aimed at Taiwan. "Only with China awakening to democracy will there be eternal peace in the world," he said.
Nearly 60 years after splitting amid civil war, China still considers self-ruled Taiwan part of its territory, and has threatened to attack if it moves toward formal independence.
The parade appeared aimed at easing public worries that the island might be unprepared for a conflict with China. But one analyst said Chen — coming to the end of his seven years in power — also wanted to win support for his ruling Democratic Progressive Party ahead of next March's presidential election.
"Chen wanted to show that he's still very much in control and still a leader who's capable of integrating fighting factions in his party," said Ho Han-chun, a political science professor at National Taipei University.
U.S.-made F-16s, French-made Mirages and Taiwan-made IDF fighters flew in formation above the presidential building to kick off the parade, as ramrod-straight honor guards in blue and white uniforms wielded rifles on the ground.
Armored personnel carriers roared by along with navy radar and satellite communication vehicles. They were followed by launch vehicles carrying U.S. Patriot II and Avenger anti-missile systems, as well as locally developed ship-to-ship and air-to-air missiles.
Chen has campaigned to underscore the island's sovereignty, including a push for a referendum to back his government's bid to rejoin the U.N.
His campaign to rejoin under the name of Taiwan failed this year. For the past decade Taiwan had tried unsuccessfully to rejoin the world body as the Republic of China, the name it used in the U.N. before being expelled in 1971.
National Day marks the Oct. 10, 1911 revolution that toppled the Qing dynasty and established the Republic of China, the first republic in China.
Taiwan's opposition politicians refused to participate in official celebrations to protest what they see as Chen's readiness to dump the island's official name, which connotes eventual unification of Taiwan and China.