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China stealth jet ‘test’ before Gates met Hu

Beijing, Jan. 11: China apparently conducted the first test-flight of its new stealth fighter jet today, only hours before Gates was to meet President Hu Jintao.

One Hong Kong-based expert on the Chinese military, Andrei Chang, said in a telephone interview that the radar-evading plane, the J-20, flew for about 15 minutes over an airfield in the southwestern city of Chengdu. Photos of the jet in flight were also posted on unofficial Chinese military websites and on a computer bulletin board run by Global Times, a state-run newspaper known for its hawkish positions.

Gates said he directly asked Hu why it was conducted during a three-day trip that is meant to smooth over rocky relations between the US military and China’s increasingly assertive armed forces.

Hu replied, Gates said, that it “had absolutely nothing to do with my visit”. Asked if Gates truly believed that, Gates said yes, but acknowledged he had questions about whether the Chinese military was acting independently of the political leadership. “I’ve had concerns about this over time,” Gates said.

A senior American defence official travelling with Gates said the secretary and his aides were surprised that President Hu appeared to be unaware of the test flight when Gates raised it with him.

The defence secretary is meeting Hu ahead of the Chinese President’s talks with President Obama at the White House next week. Chinese officials are described as eager to make the visit a success. But there remain questions about the Chinese leadership’s ability to control the rapidly modernising Chinese military, which is challenging the US Navy in the Pacific.

The Chinese first rolled out the plane last week, in what was regarded as a tough-minded welcome to Gates, who reacted by dousing the significance of the spectacle. In comments to reporters on his flight to Beijing, he questioned “just how stealthy” the Chinese fighter jet is.

The test flight apparently had been scheduled for last Thursday but was unexpectedly abandoned after the plane began taxiing down the runway, Chang said last week.

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