China deploys J-20 fighters to Asia to counter US F-35s

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China has deployed its first fighter jets over its neighboring seas to counter growing US military involvement in Asia, analysts say.

Domestically-made Chengdu J-20 stealth fighters are stationed in the south of the country for missions in the South and East China Seas, as well as around Taiwan, according to Asian experts and media.

The J-20 has started “routine training sessions” and combat patrols in both seas, the Beijing government said. Global Times news site said April 13. The report quotes Ren Yukun, head of the discipline, inspection and supervision team at the domestic aircraft manufacturer Aviation Industry Corporation of China, maker of the J-20.

“Presumably it gives something that can go along with the United States over Taiwan or the East China Sea,” said Gregory Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. based in Washington.

The United States government, which periodically sends warships through the contested seas of Asia, has sent two groups of aircraft carriers to the South China Sea in January.

US Asia-Pacific allies Australia, Japan and South Korea have purchased F-35s, and Singapore and possibly Thailand will follow, Reports from Radio Free Asia.

These developments from the United States prompted China to fly its J-20s, analysts said. Chinese officials see Washington, a former Cold War foe, as a rival superpower that wants to contain China’s expansion into nearby seas.

FILE – This Sept. 16, 2016, U.S. Air Force photo shows a U.S. Marine F-35 Lightning II taking off from Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida.

Disputed Waters

Beijing claims about 90% of the 3.5 million square kilometers of the South China Sea, which clashes with claims from Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan. Asian governments value the sea for oil, natural gas, shipping and fishing.

China and Japan are fighting over stretches of the East China Sea. Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines align with the United States.

The US government says the South China Sea should remain an international waterway.

“At least China is saying that the South China Sea belongs to them, while for the United States, I think the action on the American side is to push to internationalize it,” said Huang Kwei-bo, associate professor of diplomacy at National Chengchi University. in Taipei. “China doesn’t want it like that. I think every side is showing these [aircraft] for the other to show how powerful they are.”

The J-20 could easily interfere with military flights of other Asian countries, which lack aircraft of equal caliber, said Jay Batongbacal, associate professor and director of the Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea at the University of the Philippines.

“For China, this is important because the capabilities and range of this aircraft will allow it to establish a more coherent and longer-range air presence,” Batongbacal said.

The J-20, part of a military aircraft program launched in the 1990s, was developed by Chengdu Aerospace Corp. for the Chinese Air Force. It compares in capability to the F-22 and F-35, both American-made stealth fighters.

The United States is sending F-35s to Asia “as quickly as possible,” Poling said. The US and Chinese armies are already “close” in terms of firepower, he added.

Taiwan and Vietnam on alert

The J-20s could join other Chinese aircraft on routine overflights of a corner of Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone, Huang said.

They are unlikely to dive as far south as the widely disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, Batongbacal said, as that could be seen as “overkill” by militarily weaker Southeast Asian claimant nations.

Vietnam is the country most likely to notice, Poling said. The J-20s are likely to help project Beijing’s claims to the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, he said. This chain of islands is close to the Chinese coast and vigorously contested by Vietnam. Vietnam, a historic Russian ally, has moved closer to the United States over the past decade as China expands offshore.

“Hanoi has repeatedly protested against China’s deployment of weapons of all types in the South China Sea, but this does not change China’s behavior,” said Nguyen Thanh Trung, director of the Center for International Studies. of Saigon at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

“The deployment of advanced J-20 aircraft can be interpreted by the Vietnamese government as China’s growing ambition to exercise China’s claimed sovereignty over the airspace of the South China Sea,” he said. -he declares.

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