ZHUHAI, China – China’s first air show opened on Tuesday with the country’s arms producers parading some of their most advanced military hardware.
The unveilings include the nationally developed J-16D “electronic warfare aircraft” and the WZ-7 high-altitude drone, used by the People’s Liberation Army for border reconnaissance and patrolling territorial waters.
The biennial Airshow China comes as the country seeks to promote arms exports and underscore confidence in its own military capabilities. The show opened less than two weeks after the formation of UKUS, a defense-focused pact between the US, UK and Australia seen as an attempt to counter China.
Still, Tuesday’s opening in Zhuhai, Guangdong province, near Macau, lacked the usual fanfare, with few foreign guests due to the pandemic’s tight controls. Unlike 2018, when the show was last held, President Xi Jinping did not send a message.
The ceremony was presided over by provincial-level officials who applauded the military demonstrations as reflecting “China’s growing international influence and status.”
Some attendees seemed worried about the tone of the six-day show. “The focus seems to be more on the downing of planes than on the miracle of human theft,” said a visitor from the private sector.
But others hailed China’s rise as a superpower. “We may be way behind the United States, but we are catching up,” said a trade visitor from Beijing, who observed an exhibit featuring FC-31 jets.
China’s arms exports agency – the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense – showcased a full range of products from six industries, including aerospace, naval technology and electronic weaponry.
“From these screens, we can understand the Chinese military industry’s offerings aimed not only at domestic customers, but also our ability to provide systematic solutions to our overseas users,” said Fan Wei, deputy researcher. at the agency.
The country has indeed become a formidable competitor in the international arms trade. Aviation Industry Corp. of China and China Electronics Technology Group are among the top 25 arms producers in the world, collectively selling $ 361 billion in arms in 2019, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. After the United States, China held the second largest share of the arms market, with 16%.
“Chinese arms companies are benefiting from the PLA’s military modernization programs,” SIPPI said in a March report.
Many Chinese weapons, especially in the field of air defense, are said to be based on Russian technology. But the country has nonetheless produced state-of-the-art attack aircraft including the FC-31 and J-20 stealth fighters. This aerospace hardware “empowers China,” said Zhou Qiangguo, an executive at state-owned Aviation Industry Corp., the maker of the jets.
“Not only the products, but we also have to be strong in terms of technology and talent,” he said.
A staff member from China Electronics Technology Group said that electronic warfare systems developed with user data from actual combat, provided by overseas customers, have received high acclaim.
Among the company’s products is radar jamming equipment used to disable the ability to recognize enemies. “The cover of [our remote equipment] could respond to electromagnetic countermeasures of almost all frequency bands in electronic air defense warfare and effectively protect important ground facilities, ”he said.
On the civilian side, China’s own C919 commercial jet was not on display, a company spokesperson told Nikkei Asia. Reuters reported on Monday that the plane would not be there, citing US export restrictions on parts supplies that have slowed production.
The narrow-body aircraft, produced by the state-owned Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC), is the country’s attempt to respond to the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 MAX series, which were temporarily grounded after two fatal crashes. The MAX is resuming service in some countries but not in China.
COMAC has secured at least 700 draft orders, mostly from Chinese airlines and leasing companies, according to David Yu, a finance professor at New York University in Shanghai, who specializes in the financing and leasing of aviation. The other figures reported are slightly higher.
Production hiccups aside, Yu said there was a “great need” for narrow-body aircraft, given the Chinese market of 4,000 aircraft in service. He expects strong demand for COMAC’s C919 in China, with the Boeing 737 MAX still awaiting recertification in the country and Airbus busy with global orders. And he said that COMAC “will always be supported because of the [push for] domestic innovation.
COMAC is due to deliver its first C919 to China Eastern Airlines by the end of the year, local media reported earlier this month.
This will make China a “very unique” market served also by Airbus and Boeing, Airbus China chief executive Xu Gang told reporters on Tuesday. “The market will be more heated than before the pandemic after this,” Xu continued. “It will remind us to listen more carefully to our customers and provide them with the best service.”