China is considering unveiling a new stealth bomber that can reach Australia as relations with the west hit a new low over the origins of the coronavirus.
The H-20 strategic bomber could make its first public appearance at this year’s Zhuhai Airshow in November, if the pandemic is under control by then, reports The South China Morning Post.
“The Zhuhai Air Show is expected to become a platform to promote China’s image and its success in pandemic control – telling the outside world that the contagion did not have any big impacts on Chinese defence industry enterprises,” a source said.
But the appearance of the bomber later this year could further raise tensions by directly threatening countries within its strike range, especially Australia, Japan and the Korean peninsula.
The aircraft’s subsonic speeds, range, armaments and radar-evading stealth technology could tilt the strategic balance in the Asia Pacific towards Beijing.
Expected to enter service by 2025 with a payload of 45 tonnes, the H-20 is designed to carry four stealth or hypersonic cruise missiles. The US Defence Department estimated it has a range of about 8500 km.
Chinese defence expert Adam Ni, from Sydney’s Macquarie University, told nine.com.au last year the aircraft’s development is aimed to deter Western nations such as the US.
“China is making clear progress in acquiring an effective strategic bomber that would enhance its strategic deterrence against its competitors, such as the US,” he said at the time.
Australia has joined the US and other nations in calling for an international investigation into the origins of the coronavirus and its links to wet markets in China, triggering an angry response from Beijing.
Meanwhile, China’s massive defence budget it expected to be largely unaffected by the pandemic.
Last year the defence budget was 1.18 trillion yuan (A$275 billion), up 7.5 per cent from the previous year.
John Lee, adjunct professor at the University of Sydney and senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, estimated that this year the Chinese defence budget would remain roughly the same or increase modestly.
“In the current environment, Beijing is keen to emphasise that China has recovered substantially from Covid-19 and that its power trajectory is unaffected by recent events,” he said.
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