China flexes military hardware muscle
AFP - Thursday, November 6
ZHUHAI, China (AFP) - - China's unprecedented display of military hardware at the country's primary airshow was a warning to industry rivals of its global ambitions as a defence manufacturer, analysts said.
As a pair of its fourth-generation J-10 fighter planes made a first public appearance, buzzing past eager crowds at Airshow China 2008, the trade stands hummed with talk of the new missile systems and other equipment on display.
Some analysts believe China's ability to copy overseas technology, witnessed in countless industries over the past 20 years, could soon be powering its defence complex.
"Ten years ago they did not have any modern aircraft industry at all, now they have started to produce copies of our plane," said one Russian defence official, who would only speak on condition of anonymity.
"They will do exactly the same they have done with textiles and toys -- learn how to make it, make it cheaper and then undercut the market."
He said China was possibly 10 years away from developing its own military aircraft engine -- it currently uses engines made by Russian defence giant Sukhoi -- but once it had, it would stop purchasing overseas technology.
"They will stop buying anything from abroad and push cheap Chinese fighters to the third world countries," the official added.
While the European Union and the United States continue to have sanctions on the export of military equipment to many of the world's countries -- including China -- Chinese manufacturers face few such restrictions.
Reports have said China has sold military training aircraft to Myanmar and Zimbabwe, two countries that face some of the toughest sanctions in the world because of their poor human rights records.
However, despite the progress, China is still desperate to access foreign technology.
Chinese officials visited the huge Russian defence displays at Zhuhai, and asked detailed questions about the new Sukhoi-35 fighter, which made its maiden voyage this year.
"They showed a very keen interest in all aspects of the plane, but no agreement to buy the planes was made," said Aleksey Poveshchenko, adviser to Sukhoi's director general.
"We are still in negotiations and maybe we will see something in the coming months."
Trefor Moss, Asia-Pacific editor of defence magazine Jane's, said although China still ranked well below top defence manufacturers in the United States and Britain, the show had highlighted their development.
"It shows there is a lot of healthy competition in the international defence community," he said, comparing the display of military hardware to China's first spacewalk in September.
"At least half the reason for their space programme is nationalistic pride -- I am sure it is the same on the military side," Moss said.
China's development could also have important geopolitical implications, he added, which is part of the reason the United States remains so wary of the country's rapidly growing military budget.
"You have seen the United States trying to align with countries like India and Japan to form a bulwark against China," said Moss.
The US position had "driven Pakistan into China's arms", Moss said, a move evidenced by the presence of the joint Pakistan-China stand at Zhuhai, and the ongoing co-operation between the two countries over the JF-17 fighter plane.
"It has been a long-term relationship and it is going to be important in the future," said one Pakistani Air Force official at the show, who did not want to be named.
"The relationship has strengthened, this project (JF-17) makes that obvious," he added.
And China's desire to regain sovereignty of Taiwan -- the two split in 1949 following a civil war -- remains a huge driver of military policy and explains the new pride in its hardware.
"Taiwan is still the most important thing in their military thinking," said Moss.
Beijing has more than 1,000 missiles aimed at the island and has vowed to retake it, by force if necessary, especially if it declares independence.
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