For the first time ever, Chinese People’s Liberation Army troops joined Pakistan’s Republic Day parade in Islamabad. Troops from Saudi Arabia and Turkey joined the parade as well.
The participation of Chinese troops in the parade this year highlights growing ties between China and Pakistan, two countries with close ties that refer to their bilateral relationship as an “all-weather” partnership.
Pakistan’s president, Mamnoon Hussain, noted that the participation of Chinese troops marked a “historic moment.”
According to Xinhua, China’s state news agency, “A contingent of the guard of honor of the three services of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA)” participated in the parade.
Xinhua acknowledged Hussain’s comment on China’s inaugural participation, but did not explicitly mention that this was a rare foray by the Chinese armed forces abroad.
“We have come here to convey a message of friendship to Pakistan on behalf of the Chinese people and the Chinese army. We sincerely hope that Pakistan will progress day by day and its army will be stronger and stronger,” PLA Major General Li Jianbo said during a rehearsal for the parade, according to Xinhua.
Historically, given its purported principle of non-interference in the affairs of other states, China has been hesitant about sending its armed forces overseas for symbolic shows of solidarity.
Given recent rapprochement between Beijing and Islamabad over the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), however, China appears to be leaving its older hesitance about these sorts of optics behind.
Bilateral security cooperation between the two countries has grown as a result of CPEC, with the Pakistan armed forces raising a special division to protect Chinese workers in Pakistan from domestic threats.
Republic Day in Pakistan — also known as Pakistan Day — commemorates the passage of the Lahore Resolution in 1940 and the adoption of Pakistan’s constitution in 1956. The inter-services military parade for Republic Day resumed in 2015 after an eight-year suspension.
When China held its own military parade in September 2015, to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in Asia, Pakistan sent a small contingent of troops to show its support.