[Viewpoint] China’s stealthy wake-up call

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[Viewpoint] China’s stealthy wake-up call

China flexed its military muscle by exhibiting photos of its domestically developed “Jian 20” stealth fighter jet. Test flights of its first stealth prototype was confirmed when President Hu Jintao met U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates in Beijing, where he was attempting to mend Sino-U.S. military ties.

The Chinese rival to the American F-22, the only operational stealth fighter, came as a surprise to Washington officials who hadn’t expected the Chinese stealth aircraft until 2020. It’s another wake-up call for the United States that China is quickly catching up on the military front as well.

The J-20 jet China tested rivals the F-22 Raptor. The United States has been unmatchable in the design, manufacturing and operation of stealth aircraft. Its military rival Russia is still fiddling with the Sukhoi T-50 stealth prototype. The U.S. has dominated air power thanks largely to its stealth technology.

China’s showcasing of the J-20 not only narrowed the gap in military power with the U.S., but raises alarm among regional neighbors about a potential arms race.

Since 2000, China has been spending heavily to modernize its weaponry to become the world’s second-biggest defense spender after the U.S. Last year alone, its spending topped $78 billion (92 trillion won).

But due to its traditional secretiveness about its defense programs, China’s actual military might remains shadowy. Beijing, contrary to its usual protectiveness, more or less flaunted its stealth fighter development to the visiting U.S. defense secretary, sending obvious messages to Washington and other parts of the world.

First of all, the J-20 stealth fighter demonstration may be a gambit by Beijing against Washington to place the country on an equal footing with the U.S. in the military sphere as well as on the economic front, especially ahead of President Hu’s visit to Washington this week.

Second, China is seeking to raise its diplomatic assertiveness in the Asia-Pacific region by exhibiting its high-tech military power. It may be sending a warning to regional neighbors with which it has territorial disputes in the South China Sea, as well as the Yellow and East Seas.

Third, it may be campaigning to justify its military buildup and equate it to its advances economically and in science and technology. It is asserting its right and ambition to be as strong militarily as it is economically.

China is now fully geared to turn itself into a military as well as economic powerhouse. With an ambition to revive its ancient days of glory and achieve global supremacy, the country will likely continue to invest heavily on building its military power.

China’s newfound military zeal raises concerns not only among its neighbors but also in the broader international community. Japan has already raised concerns and responded with ambitious defense spending of 320 trillion won to build defensive naval and air forces.

We must also come up with a security strategy and an action plan against China’s growing military aspirations. We cannot have the ambition of matching its forces as a challenge to a regional power, but we should at least secure our own deterrence capabilities.

By 2015, China, Japan and Russia are expected to be ready to operate stealth aircraft. We must act fast to accelerate our fighter jet FX development to reinforce self-defense and deterrence capabilities with stealth combat features to reduce visibility and detection.

Such moves can also serve as an impetus of realigning and advancing our defense program, which is mostly centered on ground forces.

*The writer is a researcher at the Institute for National Security Strategy.

By Park Byung-kwang
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