China buying Russian SU-35s ‘response’ to US moves in Asia

SU-35 © Anton Denisov
Russia is selling China high performance aircraft as an answer to America’s actions around Asia, Conn Hallinan from Foreign Policy in Focus, told RT.

Beijing has signed a deal with Moscow for Sukhoi fighter jets. China will buy 24 cutting-edge SU-35s. China is the first foreign sale of the multipurpose aircraft.

RT: Officials from Beijing were first shown the fighter jet seven years ago at an air show in China. What do you think is behind the timing of the decision to buy these planes?

Dr. Conn Hallinnan: Well, it is not exactly the same fighter jet. They took the old Su-35, which I believe the NATO designation was Flanker, and they essentially redesigned it. So it is faster, it has got longer range, more capabilities and can carry more ordinance, etc. I think it is very much a kind of an answer…

President Obama was in Asia recently, and he announced $250 million to various countries in South East Asia: Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia to buy and get American military hardware. And I think that the announcement of this sale is sort of the counter. In other words, if you give all the stuff to your potential allies, then what we’re doing is giving one of our high performance aircraft - interceptors and fighter bombers - to China. It’s sort of an answer to the US F-35 moving to Asia and the SU-35 is a good match for the F-35.

RT: What message could this send to China's rivals in the region, particularly Japan?

Dr. CH: I think that Japan yes, but I also think there is South Korean, there is Australia. What is happening here is the Chinese have been pushing very hard in the South China Sea, a little too hard in my opinion; I think they’ve stirred up unnecessary antagonism. But what they are responding to… is the fact  that they look around, and what they see is that from India to South Korea and Japan the US has ringed them with potential adversaries. And this purchase of the Sukhoi is an answer to that. The SU-35 is better than anything right now in the Chinese air force. It is faster than the F-35, and it has got greater range than the F-35; it’s more flexible in terms of what it can do; it doesn’t have stealth capacity, but stealth capacity is overrated in any case.

RT: As you said Washington is planning to boost its presence in the Asia-Pacific with the latest generation of aircraft and warships within the next few years. What reaction can we expect from the US now?

Dr. CH: I suspect what you are going to see is a sort of a pushback. I think that Russia is in part doing that in Syria, and I think the Chinese are doing it in the South China Sea, and to a certain extent in South Asia... The US has been pushing, and I think you’re going to see the Russians and the Chinese begin to push back a little bit more. We hope, of course, this doesn’t get into a serious phase. I’m always nervous when you have high-performance aircraft that have the potential to start an incident

SU-35 © Vladimir Voskresensky

What this very much is is China and Russia’s answer to the past two decades: NATO moving Eastward, the Georgia war, the Yugoslav war, the attempt at a Ukraine coup, an attempt to overthrow the Assad regime in Syria, and at the same time a lot of US pressure in the Philippines, Japan, Vietnam, etc. sort of bumping up against the Chinese. What you seeing here is a kind of a worldwide picture – it is not really derestricted to the Asian Pacific region.

RT: We also know that China is developing its own fifth-generation fighter jet, the Chengdu J-20. Do you expect the country to continue to buy Russian military hardware in the future, or they will go with their own?

Dr. CH: I think it is actually in the interest of the Chinese to do so. In other words, the Chinese are developing their own aircraft, but the SU-35 is a relatively inexpensive airplane – it is only something like $63-65 million apiece. You compare that to something like the F-35 which is between $98 million and about $110 million apiece. It is a pretty good deal for China. Also China is putting a lot of their resources at this point into their maritime forces and they are expensive. So if you can get an airplane that is a solid airplane, easy to maintain, has good capabilities for pretty much bargain basement prices it’d be silly not to take it.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.