China broad­casts ex­port am­bi­tions at air show

Gulf Times Business - - BUSINESS -

China pa­raded in­dus­trial and mil­i­tary clout and sent de­lib­er­ate sig­nals to Western ri­vals that its aero­space and arms in­dus­tries aim to catch them up on world mar­kets, while play­ing down trade ten­sions at the na­tion’s largest air show this week.

The bi­en­nial event in the coastal city of Zhuhai has tra­di­tion­ally been used by Bei­jing to show off its grow­ing avi­a­tion ca­pa­bil­ity, but is also keenly watched by the global in­dus­try for clues on where it faces ob­sta­cles.

Bei­jing not only showed off a range of new mil­i­tary kit for ex­port, but un­veiled progress in civil wide-body and re­gional jet pro­grammes and deeper co-op­er­a­tion with Rus­sia in a mes­sage to the West, in­dus­try watch­ers said.

“You get a real sense of the scale and speed of the de­vel­op­ment of the past 25 years.

They have cov­ered an enor­mous amount of ground in a re­ally short space of time in terms of de­fence and aero­space,” said Dou­glas Bar­rie, se­nior fel­low for mil­i­tary aero­space at the Lon­don-based IISS think­tank.

“Ev­ery­thing we have been shown here is pretty much for the ex­port mar­ket. You then won­der what isn’t be­ing shown; what are they keeping for them­selves in terms of ca­pa­bil­ity?” On dis­play in the sprawl­ing ‘weaponry hall’ and on other stages to mil­i­tary vis­i­tors from Africa to South­east Asia were ground ve­hi­cles, drones rang­ing from minia­ture to air­craft-sized and new anti-ship bal­lis­tic missiles. China’s new J-20 stealth jet per­formed a five-minute-long demon­stra­tion – in con­trast to a pru­dent 60-sec­ond de­but two years ago – though the jet is not ex­pected to be sold over­seas. The show has been taking place against a back­drop of a tar­iff spat with the United States and US ac­cu­sa­tions of es­pi­onage by China’s state aero­space ap­pa­ra­tus.

Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping said weeks be­fore the show that Rus­sia and China should work to­gether to op­pose pro­tec­tion­ism and what he called uni­lat­eral ap­proaches to in­ter­na­tional prob­lems, a veiled ref­er­ence to US for­eign pol­icy.

The two coun­tries un­veiled a mock-up of the CR929 wide-body civil jet, widely seen as a high-level ini­tia­tive, and signed a he­li­copter sale in one of the few deals.

A se­nior ex­ec­u­tive at Rus­sian state con­glom­er­ate Rostec told Reuters both coun­tries were keen to de­velop their civil air­craft build­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties to re­duce their de­pen­dence on the Western com­pa­nies that cur­rently dom­i­nate the sup­ply chain.

“The Chi­nese-Rus­sian air­craft is show­ing that they have a choice, that they don’t have to buy (air­craft) from the West and that if there are any prob­lems on trade they can de­velop per­fectly ad­e­quately in co­op­er­a­tion with Rus­sia,” said aero­space an­a­lyst Sash Tusa of Bri­tain-based Agency Part­ners.

Help­ing ef­forts to show­case the strides China is mak­ing in avi­a­tion was Com­mer­cial Air­craft Corp of China (COMAC), which wants to be­come a se­ri­ous com­peti­tor to Boe­ing and Air­bus and re­gional jet play­ers Canada and Brazil. Three of its self-de­vel­oped ARJ-21 re­gional jets, dec­o­rated in the liv­er­ies of cus- tomers in­clud­ing Genghis Khan Air­lines, flew demon­stra­tions in a per­for­mance some an­a­lysts said in­di­cated that the prob­lem­atic pro­gramme was turn­ing a cor­ner.

COMAC’s gen­eral man­ager Zhao Yuerang told a news con­fer­ence at­tended by Chi­nese govern­ment of­fi­cials that the com­pany now plans to de­liver 100 ARJ-21 planes within the next five years.

“We have smoothly passed the dif­fi­cult teething pe­riod that every new plane model has to face,” he said. Some in­dus­try ex­ec­u­tives, how­ever, said it was dif­fi­cult to ig­nore some glar­ing holes in China’s care­fully or­ches­trated show of strength, not­ing at­ten­dance num­bers ap­peared to have fallen.

It took place in the same week as a Shang­hai im­port expo, viewed as one of China’s most im­por­tant for­eign pol­icy events for the year.

Hong Kong’s South China Morn­ing Post (SCMP) re­ported, cit­ing mil­i­tary in­sid­ers, that or­gan­is­ers had scaled back the Zhuhai event due to trade ten­sions and re­duced fund­ing.

There were also a num­ber of no-shows among the range of do­mes­tic prod­ucts that China was ex­pected to put on dis­play.

In a sep­a­rate re­port, the SCMP re­ported the WS-15 Emei engine for the J-20 fighter was not used as had been ex­pected.

COMAC did not bring its ban­ner prod­uct, the nar­row­body C919, which has been in flight tests for over a year. COMAC of­fi­cials said its three C919 planes were busy flight test­ing. A se­nior in­dus­try ex­ec­u­tive called this a de­lib­er­ate “PR strat­egy” to fo­cus at­ten­tion on the CR929 and its wider po­lit­i­cal mes­sage of joint Chi­nese-Rus­sian re­silience to US pressure.

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