BEIJING (Reuters) - China will put on a huge show of force on Thursday with goose-stepping troops and nuclear-capable missiles parading through Beijing, marking 70 years since the end of World War Two and the country's growing military might and confidence.
More than 12,000 soldiers, most Chinese but with contingents from Russia and elsewhere, will march past Tiananmen Square overseen by President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin and leaders of several other friendly nations, including Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who is wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court.
Many Western leaders will be conspicuous by their absence, nervous about appearing on the same stage as people like Putin and about the message China is sending to a region already worried by Beijing's growing military assertiveness, especially in the South China Sea.
Xi has set great store on military modernization and the morning parade will be the high point of China's celebrations for the war's end.
"A military parade is an important test of training levels, and also a sign showing the military's ability to wage war and shows the modernization level of the armed forces," Qu Rui, a senior officer helping oversee the parade, told reporters last month.
A large number of new weapons systems will be shown, from ballistic missiles to bombers.
China rarely misses an opportunity to remind its own people and the world about the atrocities and violence visited upon the country by Japan during the war, during which millions of Chinese died.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will not attend either.
China says the parade is not aimed at any particular country and is about peace and remembrance, but also a reminder to the world of China's huge sacrifices.
"For decades, when people in Western countries talk about the WWII, they usually refer to the battles on the European continent and have little knowledge about China's role as the major oriental theater of the war," state news agency Xinhua said in an English-language commentary this week.
Beijing has been put under lock-down to ensure nothing goes wrong, with much of downtown off-limits, a three-day holiday declared and, according to one Chinese newspaper, monkeys used to clear birds' nests from trees along the route.
Factories have been closed hundreds of miles from Beijing to guarantee clear skies in the normally smoggy metropolis, and some residents whose apartments overlook roads along which the tanks will rumble have been warned not to look out of windows.
State media has gone into a propaganda overdrive ahead of the parade, and entertainment programming on television has been suspended to ensure the proper reverential atmosphere.
Editing by Nick Macfie