“Our military is the most ambitious in the world,” says Xu Caihou, a former general who retired in 2012. “Our military has evolved into a combat efficiency reserve force and became a great national strength and an Asian power.”
Chinese military technology has advanced quickly in the last decade and is becoming harder for international nations to hack. But not everyone likes the apparent rise of China.
Cai is visibly frustrated that not everyone likes his government. “History has shown that mainland China’s military is aggressive when necessary, but restrained when necessary,” he says. “How did this military not destroy the homeland or break the ethnic group apart?” Cai explains that among many Chinese, even though “you see tanks and bombers attacking by day and sleeping at night, that is what a military is really like. It is a busy place and the people are not happy.”
The air show illustrates the new military strength. China has advanced fighter planes that can take off from tiny pylons perched hundreds of metres high off the ground, then climb a few thousand metres to fly in formation and fly back. A Chinese warplane could have half a dozen US fighters intercepting one of them in the opposite direction.
China has also improved the range of its new Y-20 cruise missiles and has more advanced anti-aircraft and anti-ship capabilities – which the US is also rapidly developing. A series of rockets that can destroy container ships, oil tankers, tanks, airliners and even warships have been introduced.
China’s J-15 jet fighter. Photograph: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstock
China has also introduced a bevy of cheap, home-made satellites and space technologies to the world, many of which are competing with foreign companies. China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in 2012 acquired the world’s largest satellite production plant.
It is also building reusable rockets. Some new ones are not expected to be ready for at least two more years. During its 11-year tenure, former president Hu Jintao had called for them. During the air show China unveiled a beast that could take off with a car-sized payload, take off in 40 seconds and land on just a hill – and takes just 40 seconds to launch, so that it could launch a one-tonne payload in under three minutes.
Cai: “Our national defence should always be dependable.” It won’t be forever but “it will certainly last for a long time.”