The "Yi Long" drone by China Aviation Industry Corporation (AVIC) is displayed Nov. 13 during the ninth China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai. China's air show comes as the Communist Party holds a meeting to select the country's new leaders. (Philippe Lopez / AFP)
ZHUHAI, China — China on Nov. 13 showed off a new military drone and a model of a next-generation fighter plane as it builds up its own defense capabilities and seeks customers for its hardware.
Industry giant China Aviation Industry Corporation (AVIC) displayed its “Yi Long” drone, called Wing Loong in English, at the opening of China’s premier airshow in the southern city of Zhuhai, state media said.
The show comes as China’s Communist Party holds a meeting to select the country’s new leaders — including for the party’s Central Military Commission, which controls the armed forces.
The new leaders are expected to be announced Nov. 15.
AVIC, which makes both military and civil aircraft, also showed a model of a new generation fighter jet that Chinese media said was the J-31, a stealth plane whose existence was only recently known to the public.
Chinese President Hu Jintao last week called for China to step up the military’s technological abilities, saying its most important task was to be able to “win a local war in an information age”.
AVIC had previously shown only a model of the nine-meter (30-foot) long drone, which can carry two missiles, at previous Zhuhai airshows, an analyst said.
“The Chinese have spent a lot of money to develop a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle),” said Andrei Chang, a Hong Kong-based military expert.
“They know that in future wars, unmanned warfare will be very important,” Chang, editor of Kanwa Defense Monthly, told AFP.
He added China was aware of the U.S. experience using drones in Afghanistan and earlier military conflicts, while the worry that the United States might one day intervene to defend Taiwan had prompted development.
China considers Taiwan part of its sovereign territory and has threatened to use military force should the island move toward independence, though tensions have cooled in recent years.
The Chinese drone resembles the Predator manufactured by U.S.-based General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, used by the U.S. military, but is likely priced far more cheaply, Chang said, adding the Wing Loong had already been exported.
Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post newspaper put the price of the Chinese drone at around $1.0 million.
At the air show, the grey-colored drone was tucked away at the corner of the exhibition, surrounded by journalists and officers of a foreign military, who declined to comment.
The website of the People’s Daily newspaper said AVIC also displayed a fourth-generation fighter, which it identified as the J-31, a stealth plane that had its first test flight last month.
But an AVIC official was quoted as saying by the Sina website that the model was only a “concept” plane that was still under development.
China’s first stealth fighter, the J-20, was unveiled in early 2011 but is not expected to enter service until 2018.