Gates's China visit: Beijing confirms stealth fighter test flights

US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates visited China this week and said Tuesday that President Hu Jintao confirmed that China had carried out its first test flight of a stealth fighter jet.

AP Photo/Kyodo News
In this Jan. 5 photo, people surround a Chinese J-20 stealth plane before its runway test in Chengdu, southwest China. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the Chinese president confirmed the plane's maiden voyage on Tuesday.

As US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates pressed his Chinese hosts on Tuesday to be less secretive about their military modernization program, they gave him at least a little of what he wanted.

President Hu Jintao told Mr. Gates that China’s J-20 stealth fighter jet made its maiden test flight Tuesday. The plane is China’s version of the F-22 Raptor, though it is probably nearly a decade away from full deployment, aviation experts say.

Chinese websites had earlier carried photos of the radar-evading plane making a 15-minute test flight from a military airfield in Chengdu, China.

“I asked President Hu about it directly and he said that the test had absolutely nothing to do with my visit and had been a preplanned test,” Gates told reporters after his meeting with the Chinese president. “And that’s where we left it.”

The Chinese military will take another symbolic step toward transparency Wednesday when Gates visits the command and control center for China’s nuclear arsenal, located just outside Beijing.

Gates is on a three-day visit trying to put often rocky relations between the US and Chinese militaries onto firmer footing. On Monday, he and his counterpart, Defense Minister Liang Guanglie, agreed to set up a working group to study ways of building a firm framework for continuing talks, which Washington has been pressing for.

Gates said the two countries agreed that military relations should be “solid, consistent, and not subject to shifting political winds.” China has suspended military-to-military links for most of the past three years, in protest at US arms sales to Taiwan.

In an apparent warning that Beijing would react the same way again, Mr. Liang said “we hope that US arms sales will not again and further disrupt” military ties.

Gates’s visit to the headquarters of the Second Artillery Corps, which controls China’s entire nuclear arsenal, “shows China’s frank attitude to establish mutual trust between the Chinese and US militaries,” said Ma Xiaolin, a commentator on the state-run Chinese central TV network.

Echoing the tone of most of the coverage of Gates’ visit in the official Chinese press, however, Ma cautioned that “mutual trust cannot be established in one or two days. The US should consider China as a real friend, rather than an enemy.”

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