China flags ambitions at arms fair

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SummaryChina is flexing its muscles as an arms exporter with a growing array of indigenous weaponry.

protests in 1989.

Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran and Myanmar are among China's biggest clients, with aircraft at the top of their shopping lists, SIPRI data shows.

Beijing does not release official figures for arms sales. Foreign estimates put the figure at about $2 billion in 2011.

STAR OF SHOW: STEALTH FIGHTER

The undisputed star of the show this week was a sleek, quarter-sized model of China's second stealth fighter, dubbed the J-31 by most Western analysts.

Although officially a concept plane, it bore what industry bible Aviation Week called a striking resemblance to a mystery jet that flew briefly at the end of October.

Photographs of the jet leaked, or orchestrated to look like a leak, and emerged on the Internet days before this week's Communist Party Congress and leadership handover, and confirmed China's place in a select club of stealth-capable nations.

China has stood up, said John Pike, director of Virginia-based GlobalSecurity.org, an expert on industry strategy.

Only the United States has successfully produced more than one stealth jet and the challenges facing China's less experienced developers are undoubtedly immense.

The unveiling also served as a reminder to its neighbours of China's growing clout as tensions rise over rival claims for territory in the East China Sea and South China Sea.

China is doing this as part of a political equation, said Robert Hewson, editor of IHS Jane's Air-Launched Weapons. It has had a rapidly staged coming out but I am surprised to see it here so soon.

By mixing domestic and international messages, the model also filled a void left by the absence of top Chinese government officials distracted by the transition in Beijing.

BASIC BUT RELIABLE

The business end of the show is about present-day realities.

After relying heavily on Russian and to a lesser extent Israeli technology in the 1990s, China is pushing exports of home-grown equipment to expand its influence in areas like Africa where it is busy buying land and forging new allies.

The Chinese used to simply produce cheap knockoffs of their basic Russian equipment. They have made very considerable advances, but still have problems, particularly with engines, said Simon Wezeman, senior researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

On some technology, they are now competitive on technology with European arms exports and very competitive on price.

China has sold defence systems and co-developed a derivative of a Russian fighter with Pakistan and

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