MELBOURNE, Australia – China’s Aug. 1 flight demonstration team has arrived in Singapore for its first ever participation at the biennial Singapore Airshow, Feb. 11-16.
According to witnesses, seven Chengdu J-10 fighter jets in the team’s distinctive blue, white and red livery landed at Singapore’s Changi East Airbase Tuesday afternoon along with a pair of Ilyushin Il-76 transport aircraft of China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force, or PLAAF.
The presence of the PLAAF contingent has raised a few eyebrows, as their participation had not been previously announced by the organizers or any of the stakeholders, with a news release about the team’s participation only sent out on Tuesday evening.
More noteworthy is the fact that the Il-76s, which will be ferrying support equipment and personnel accompanying the Beijing-based display team, are assigned to the PLAAF’s 13th Transport Division based in China’s Hubei province, including a regiment in the city of Wuhan.
The city is the origin of the month-long coronavirus outbreak that has infected almost 25,000 and killed approximately 500 people worldwide. Both the city and the wider province have been hard hit by the outbreak, which has led to the lockdown of Wuhan since late January, restricting movement in and out of the city.
Singapore has also been one of several countries affected by the virus, with 24 victims infected in the southeast Asian island state at the time of writing, making it the country with the third largest infection cluster outside of China.
The virus, which has an incubation period of up to two weeks with the carrier of the virus is still contagious despite showing no symptoms, has continued to spread despite Singapore imposing stringent travel restrictions on visitors from China since last week.
The restrictions have already seen 10 companies from China withdraw from the air show. A number of participants from other countries, including Textron, Bombardier and South Korea’s Black Eagles aerial demonstration team, have also pulled out, citing fears over the coronavirus outbreak.
It is unclear what mechanism Singaporean authorities used to get around the restrictions that they imposed, which included the suspension of all previously approved visas of short-term visitors from China.
However, Experia Events, the organizer of the air show, told Defense News that the PLAAF contingent have “taken proactive measures like health checks and temperature screenings to ensure that they are healthy before they fly into Singapore," adding that they “are military personnel who live on bases and have been conducting regular health checks and regular temperature monitoring, and are taking all necessary precautionary measures in line with existing guidelines while they are in Singapore.”
Experian added that the decision to go ahead with the PLAAF contingent’s participation at the Singapore Airshow was taken after consultation with the “relevant government authorities,” although it did not go into specific details about factors taken into consideration.
Defense News has also approached Singapore’s foreign and health ministries for comment.
Despite the withdrawals, there are still a sizable number of participants at the air show, which bills itself as Asia’s largest. The U.S. Defense Department will, as usual, have a big aircraft presence in Singapore, with both the USAF’s fifth-generation stealth fighters, the Lockheed-Martin F-22 Raptor and the F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, taking part in the daily flying displays.
Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News.