Chinese President Xi Jinping has pledged to cut 300,000 troops from its army, as the country commemorates the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.
The announcement at the start of a massive parade in Beijing on Thursday brings the armed forces' headcount down to about 2 million, still making it the world's largest standing military.
Xi gave no specific reason for the reduction, but bracketed his announcement with assertions of the Peoples Liberation Army's mission to protect China and "uphold the sacred task of ensuring world peace".
The announcement could be seen as an attempt to soften the impact of Thursday's spectacle that saw 12,000 troops march through the centre of the Chinese capital.
They were followed by ballistic missiles, tanks and armoured vehicles, many never seen in public before. Advanced fighter jets and bombers flew overhead in a highly-choreographed show that lasted around 90 minutes.
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For the first time, about 1,000 foreign troops from 17 countries participated in the military parade.
The parade was largely shunned by Japan, the US and other major powers which have grown concerned about China's increasingly aggressive moves to assert its territorial claims in the South China Sea and elsewhere.
However, Russian President Vladimir Putin and leaders of several other nations with close ties to China, including Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir - who is wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court - attended the event.
'Never seek hegemony'
Xi stressed that China will remain committed to peaceful development and will never seek hegemony or expansion.
- In 1985, the country announced to cut one million troops to focus on economic development and strengthening the quality of the troops.
- In 1987, army size decreased to a total of 3.235 million from 4.238 million.
- By 1990, the number of troops shrank to 3.199 million, with a total cut of 1.039 million.
- In 1997, troops were cut by 500,000 within three years, reducing the total to 2.5 million.
- Between 2003 and 2005, China cut another 200,000 personnel, leaving about 2.3 million soldiers
"We Chinese love peace. No matter how much stronger it may become, China will never seek hegemony or expansion. It will never inflict its past suffering on any other nation," Xi said at the parade to mark the defeat of Japan 70 years ago.
Xi has set great store on China's military modernisation, including developing an ocean-going "blue water" navy capable of defending the country's growing global interests.
In a sign of that emerging capability, five Chinese navy ships are sailing in international waters in the Bering Sea off Alaska, the Pentagon said on Wednesday.
China's defence ministry said on Thursday that Chinese naval ships were in the Bering Sea carrying out routine exercises.
Once known for its human wave tactics in conflicts such as the Korean War, the PLA is increasingly focused on high-tech weaponry and projecting power abroad through its navy and air force.
As an example, the latest version of the PLA's mainstay bomber, the H-6K, requires just a three-person crew, half its former complement.
Despite its huge numbers, the PLA has not fought in a major conflict since a brief 1979 border war with Vietnam.
|Advanced fighter jets and bombers flew over the parade [Reuters]