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Inside China: J-31 stealth jet takes to the skies

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The 10-minute maiden test flight of China's newest stealth fighter jet, the J-31, sparked intense debate among the world's weapons and intelligence communities. That's because little is known about the aircraft, which China boasts is the only other fifth-generation stealth light combat aircraft in the world after the U.S. Air Force F-35.

On Oct. 31, the Shenyang J-31, also known as the Falcon Eagle, took off after some high-speed runway taxiing. It was accompanied by two of China's J-11 fighter jets.

Video clips released by Chinese authorities indicate that the J-31 is a twin-engine, midsized fighter jet with a stealth design similar to that of the F-35. It, too, has forward-swept engine-intake cowls and is significantly smaller than China's first stealth combat aircraft, the much-touted Chengdu J-20.

The released videos also show dense smoke trailing from the aircraft, a sign of incomplete burning of fuel.

International attention has focused on two major issues surrounding the J-31. First, China appears to have encountered major technical problems in developing its own jet engines for combat aircraft. Many analysts think the J-31 is powered by a Russian-designed engine known as the Klimov RD-93.

A second issue is the mission of the J-31, with China facing international embarrassment over its inability to deploy carrier-based planes aboard its much-glorified aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, which was commissioned in late September.

Design features of the J-31 suggest that the aircraft is being considered for use on the Liaoning. It is significantly lighter than the J-20. It also has a twin-engine power plant, twin forward wheels and rear wheels that are in "the kneeling position," as analysts describe the feature used on most carrier-based aircraft.

The timing of the J-31's unveiling has a political dimension, many analysts say, because the aircraft was flown for the first time days before the major 18th Chinese Communist Party Congress, which opens Thursday.

It is a normal practice for the People's Liberation Army to showcase major accomplishments as contributions to the Communist Party's monopoly on power and its integral role in party power politics.

Report: End one-child policy

In a daring challenge to the Chinese Communist Party's more than 40-year-old "one child per family" policy, a semiofficial think tank in Beijing recently urged the government to cease the unpopular forced birth-control policy by 2015.

Instead, the report urges the government to permit every family to have two children and to eliminate all birth limits by 2020.

The report was produced by the China Development Research Foundation, which is affiliated with the State Council, China's functional government body.

The final report has not been released to the public, but advanced copies were supplied to Chinese media. The state-run Xinhua News Agency and other official media outlets gave the report prominent space in their news accounts.

The one-child policy has caused tremendous negative -- and some say unintended -- consequences for the party's blind pursuit to control the population growth.

Mainly because of the policy, countless forced abortions have been performed at a great emotional and moral cost to millions of Chinese families. All-powerful family planning officials in China are among the most hated in the society.

With a population that is increasingly aging, China's elderly care system faces unprecedented crises as young married couples from one-child families must take care of four older parents, adding a tremendous burden to the most productive demographic portion of the nation.

Sex discrimination has skyrocketed in China in the past several decades in large part because of the population control policy. Many families prefer sons to daughters.

Prenatal ultrasound sex identification, gender-selected abortion, massive abandonment of infant daughters, and the disproportionate number of girls in orphanages and adoption agencies have been alarming.

Virtually all children adopted overseas from Chinese parents are girls. China also possesses the dubious honor of having the world's highest imbalance of male-to-female sex ratio at birth with 117 boys to 100 girls.

In the military, close to 90 percent of Chinese troops in all service branches come from one-child families, which is producing a tremendous negative impact on recruiting, training, morale and benefits.

The one-child policy is among the leading reasons why China suffers from a hemorrhaging brain drain. Many among the educated and the financially well-off in China are trying their best to leave the country so they can have the freedom to have more than one child.

The brutal enforcement of the policy during four decades of unrelenting and harsh party demands also has severely damaged China's international stance. It is another major category of rights abuses in China's abysmally poor human rights record.

The report, though not fully available to the Chinese public, gathered strong support and cheers among China's estimated 500 million Internet users.

Senior Chinese leaders have made no official comment.

• Miles Yu's column appears Thursdays. He can be reached at mmileyu@gmail.com.

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