A prototype of the Chinese J-20 stealth plane is seen Friday during a runway test in Chengdu, southwest China.
By Yu Miao
The echo of China's J-20 stealth fighter jet's test flight was heard around the world as major powers scrambled to assess the implication of Beijing's military advancement despite efforts by Chinese officials to downplay the issue.
Officials from China's Ministries of Defense and of Foreign Affairs have repeatedly stated that the test flight fit into China's "peaceful rise" policy, and that it in no way posed a challenge to US military supremacy.
However, such remarks have been drowned out by the heated debates surrounding the J-20.
"In terms of capability, the emergency of the J-20 means that China's air force is now likely to put a 'fifth generation' fighter aircraft into service before the end of the decade," Craig Caffery, an analyst with Jane's Defence Forecasts, told the Global Times.
"The speed with which China was able to produce this prototype has taken many by surprise, although at this stage, there is no way of knowing just how capable the aircraft is," Caffery said.
Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, told the Global Times that an arms race may now intensify. "With Washington's strategic return to Asia, China is actually involved in a regional competition with the US. The J-20's launch reflected Beijing's sense of strategic urgency."
He suggested that the J-20 would jolt Moscow into hurrying up its own stealth jet - the T-50.
Separately, before flying to Japan, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters Wednesday that he would be lobbying for Tokyo to buy US-made stealth fighter jets, but did not address whether the J-20 had added a dose of expediency to his sales pitch.
"The Japanese government is considering the purchase of its next generation of fighter aircraft. That would give Japan the opportunity to have a fifth-generation capability, if they bought the right airplane," Japan's Kyodo News Agency quot-ed Gates as saying. "I might have a few suggestions for it."
Gates was apparently referring to the US Air Force's F-35 Lightning II multi-purpose fighter since Washington has ruled out selling the F-22 Raptor, the world's only operational fifth-generation fighter jet, to Japan.
Compared with the F-22, the F-35 lacks supersonic cruising speed and is generally regarded as a fourth-generation aircraft.
"The J-20 might not be too stealthy, we have to find out," Narushige Michishita of Tokyo's National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies told Reuters. However, if it is a real success, "it will definitely make it more difficult for US carriers and long-range assets to operate in this region."
"Certainly you would expect others in the region to be alarmed by the J-20," Caffery said. "However, I would not expect any radical shifts in other countries' defense planning at the moment. There are still many challenges remaining for the aircraft before becoming operational. It is important not to get too carried away."
Gary Li, an expert of Chinese studies with the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, told the Global Times that China remains 30 years behind the US in terms of military development.
"China can create new technologies in trying to catch up with the US, but they are neither at the same level nor being produced in the same numbers," he said.
Meanwhile, some analysts supported China's right to shore up its defenses.
"China is advanced in military technology, and it is normal for it to bring in a new generation of air-craft. The J-20 is unlikely to be a threat to the Korean Peninsula," Choi Choon-heum, a senior researcher with the Korea Institute for National Unification, told the Global Times.
He noted that if the South Korean government wants stealth jets, they would only purchase them from the US due to their longstanding alliance.
Source: Global Times