China announced deals and publicly unveiled its latest fighter jet as the nation’s biggest air show opened yesterday, showcasing its rising aerospace and military clout as senior U.S. officers looked on.
Global aerospace companies including GE Aviation and Embraer SA are gathered at the Zhuhai Air Show in the southern province of Guangdong as they seek bigger slices an aviation market that Boeing Co. and Airbus Group NV are projecting to surpass the U.S. as the world’s biggest in two decades.
The biennial show, which this year coincides with a meeting in Beijing of leaders of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation nations, showcases China’s growing ambitions in civil aviation and defense technology at a time of rising geopolitical tensions in the South China Sea.
Kept largely secret until yesterday, China’s J-31 fighter jet is made by a Shenyang-based unit of Aviation Industry Corp. of China. It tests China’s ability to deliver advanced defense technology for its air and sea expansion in the region and its push-back against U.S. economic and military dominance.
Chinese pilots staged an acrobatic display with the planes above the Zhuhai airport, according to footage shown on China Central Television.
A Chinese J-31 stealth fighter jet performs during a demonstration flight ahead of the 10th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition, also known as Airshow China 2014, in Zhuhai city, south China's Guangdong province, 9 November 2014.Airshow China 2014 will kick off at the Airshow China Exhibition Center and the Zhuhai Jinwan Airport from November 11 to 16, 2014.
The jet is a fifth-generation fighter, a classification that began with the service entry of the U.S.’s F-22 Raptor in 2005, according to IHS Jane’s. Such jets have reduced visibility to infrared sensors and can cruise at supersonic speeds, although little is known about the J-31 beyond reports suggesting it has Russian engines, said Richard Bitzinger, a senior fellow at the S.Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.
China’s efforts to build more military hardware itself have raised questions about the risk of it borrowing technology. The country sent a surveillance vessel to Hawaii in July even as its navy participated for the first time in the world’s largest international naval exercise, led by the U.S., and China boosted its defense budget for this year by 12.2 percent to 808.2 billion yuan ($132 billion).
The U.S. military is taking part at Zhuhai for the first time. Pacific Air Forces chief General Lori Robinson is representing the U.S. Air Force, along with 15 airmen and a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III, a military transport plane.
Another AVIC unit, Harbin Aircraft Industry Group, yesterday signed an agreement to sell 20 of its Y-12 utility aircraft to a U.S. airline, according to China’s official Xinhua News Agency. The sale is China’s first export of civil aircraft to the U.S.
Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China, called Comac, announced 30 new commitments for the C919, according to a statement distributed at a press conference. The plane is China’s first large passenger jet, as it attempts to break the grip of Boeing and Airbus on the world’s large-plane market.
Airbus doesn’t see the C919 as a competitor, Eric Chen, the Toulouse, France-based company’s China chief executive officer, said at a press conference in Zhuhai yesterday.
“The China market is big enough to accommodate more than two aircraft manufacturers,” Chen said.
Airbus plans to double the value of its industrial investment in China to $1 billion by 2020, China Chief Operating Officer Rafael Gonzalez-Ripoll said at the same press conference.
A Chinese J-31 stealth fighter jet takes off for a demonstration flight ahead of the 10th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition, also known as Airshow China 2014, in Zhuhai city, south China's Guangdong province.