China on Tuesday conducted a test flight of its first-ever stealth fighter dubbed the J-20, becoming the second country after the United States to acquire a fighter jet capable of bypassing radar to infiltrate enemy airspace. The J-20 is expected to be ready for combat in about five years. On the day of the test, Chinese President Hu Jintao was meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates in Beijing, an ideal occasion to display his country's military strength.
On the day the Chinese authorities leaked photos of a pilotless upper-atmosphere military spacecraft but quickly deleted them. But that was enough to indicate that China has achieved a certain level of progress in the development of space jet fighters.
China's military might has yet to become a real threat to the U.S. What is startling is the speed with which its military technology is developing. The U.S. predicted that China's stealth fighters would not be ready until about 2020, but it seems that the timing has been advanced by nearly a decade. Gates admitted China "may be somewhat further ahead in the development of that aircraft than our intelligence had earlier predicted." It also has 40 intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the U.S. mainland and is scheduled to launch its first aircraft carrier this summer. If China boosts its defense investments in proportion to its 8-9 percent annual economic growth, the day is not far off when it approaches the U.S. in military power as well.
Washington is mulling an increase of its forces stationed in Asia. Japan last month finalized a new defense program reinforcing its Self-Defense Forces with the emphasis on the Navy and Air Force by investing W320 trillion (US$1=W1,114) over the next five years. Both are aimed at countering China's expanding military power.
Meanwhile, Gates said North Korea may be able to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the U.S. mainland in five years and is becoming "a direct threat to the United States." So far the North's tests of long-range missiles have failed. But if it succeeds and the U.S. and Japan reinforce their military strength in response, Northeast Asia would become a tinderbox. What is the South Korean government doing about this, and where is it seeking the answer at a time when these threats to the country's very existence are becoming reality?