China’s neighbors were watching the parade closely because Beijing has grown increasingly aggressive about asserting territorial claims in the South China Sea and the East Sea, also known as the Sea of Japan.

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BEIJING — Dozens of foreign heads of state went to Beijing to witness China’s military parade Thursday, marking the 70th anniversary of imperial Japan’s defeat at the end of World War II.

Relatively few of them were from countries that helped defeat Japan.

Representatives from 49 countries were to attend the event, according to China’s state news service. Among them: Russian President Vladimir Putin, South Korean President Park Geun-hye and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Many Western heads of state — including those from the United States and Britain — declined their invitations. Several countries, including Canada and the U.S., sent only their ambassadors to China.

Britain sent former Prime Minister Tony Blair. Czech Republic President Milos Zeman was the only head of state from the European Union set to attend.

“The fact that the Western-North Atlantic guest list is so slim shows that these powers are concerned by the parade as an endorsement of China’s growing military strength,” said Rana Mitter, an expert on Chinese history at the University of Oxford.

China’s neighbors were watching closely. The country has grown increasingly aggressive about asserting territorial claims in the South China Sea and the East Sea, also known as the Sea of Japan, ratcheting up tensions with Vietnam, the Philippines, Japan and the United States.

“It’s pretty plain that the Chinese leadership wants to convey an image of China as a very powerful 21st-century state that is not to be messed with,” said Rory Medcalf, head of the national-security college at Australian National University in Canberra. “The problem is that this may also be seen as a show of coercive capability as well as a show of defensive capability.”

Many foreign analysts were surprised by the inclusion of two prominent South Koreans — Ban and Park — on the parade’s guest list but the absence of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un. China is North Korea’s only major ally.

“I think that (Kim’s absence) reflects the fact that relations between China and North Korea have not been good since Kim Jong Un took power a few years ago,” said Timothy Heath, a senior research analyst at the RAND Corp. who focuses on international defense.

Further underscoring China’s awkward position in the world order, Xi met with Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir on Friday and called him an “old friend,” despite his status as a war criminal throughout much of the world.