- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 11, 2011

China carried out the first flight test of an advanced stealth fighter as visiting Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates raised questions about the jet during a meeting in Beijing with China’s president.

Mr. Gates said the flight test led him to “directly” question Chinese President Hu Jintao about the timing. “And he said that the test had absolutely nothing to do with my visit and had been a preplanned test, and that’s where we left it,” Mr. Gates told reporters after the meeting.

China in the past has used missile tests and other military activities to send political messages to the United States, according to defense officials.

The test flight appeared to be a political message from the Chinese military directly meant for the defense secretary. “It was clear that none of the civilians in the room had been informed [of the test flight],” said a senior U.S. defense official describing the meeting between Mr. Hu and Mr. Gates.

Meanwhile, Mr. Gates will visit China’s strategic-missile headquarters near Beijing during his four-day trip, matching a first visit there by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld in 2005. Mr. Gates also will see the Great Wall on Wednesday before traveling to Tokyo and South Korea.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates (left front) listens to Chinese President Hu Jintao during a meeting Tuesday at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Mr. Hu visits the U.S. later this month. (Associated Press)
U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates (left front) listens to Chinese ... more >

Mr. Hu said the Gates visit would be “very helpful in promoting mutual understanding and trust, and facilitate improvement and development of military-to-military relations between our two countries.” Mr. Hu visits Washington later this month.

Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie on Monday rebuffed calls for closer military talks on strategic nuclear and security issues. He said the proposal would be “considered and studied,” which in Asian diplomatic parlance often means “no.”

On Tuesday, Mr. Gates said China’s military is “taking the proposal seriously.” Pentagon officials are drawing up an agenda for possible future talks that could be held in next five months.

Earlier, Mr. Gates told reporters that North Korea is developing long-range ballistic missiles within five years that will directly threaten the United States.

“With the North Koreans’ continuing development of nuclear weapons and their development of intercontinental ballistic missiles, North Korea is becoming a direct threat to the United States,” he said.

On the new jet, the faster-than-expected emergence of China’s Jian-20 (J-20) fifth-generation fighter comes at an inconvenient time for Washington and its allies in the Asia-Pacific region concerned about China’s growing military power.

It follows recent disclosures of major war-game simulations that are producing the ominous perception among some Asian allies that U.S. airpower assets can no longer be assumed to be powerful enough to quickly vanquish Chinese jets — what the Pentagon calls “air supremacy” — in any future conflict with China’s air force, known as the PLAAF, or People’s Liberation Army Air Force.

Mr. Gates is in China trying to re-establish military ties between the Pentagon and China in time for a summit meeting later this month between Mr. Hu and President Obama.

U.S. allies in Asia, especially Japan and South Korea, where Mr. Gates visits next, are increasingly nervous about China and the J-20 rollout over the past several weeks.

The new J-20 was made public in Internet photos, videos and unofficial reporting. One video posted Sunday on a Chinese website showed a new taxi test of the J-20, a rare break with Chinese military secrecy.

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