- - Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Chinese naval vessel the Harbin, a Type 052 heavy destroyer, arrived mid-June at the Republic of Seychelles with a special mission: Display friendliness and take part in the Seychelles National Day parade.

The parade ended up being dominated by a specially trained Chinese naval marching troupe that aimed to impress officials and residents of the tiny Indian Ocean island state.

An article published on the Chinese navy website said the marching team had trained for three months just to perform at the Seychelles event.

It’s been widely believed that if China’s navy sought to establish overseas stations, among the first likely places would be the Seychelles, a 115-island country strategically located 930 miles off the east coast of Africa.

Last year, a Chinese defense minister, Gen. Liang Guanglie, for the first time, led a large delegation to visit the Seychelles and called for deeper military cooperation, intensifying speculation that China wants to build a naval base there.

Since 2008, China has made major moves in the Indian Ocean, dispatching 14 flotillas to the Gulf of Aden and the western Indian Ocean as part of international anti-piracy operations.

Along the way, the navy gained long-range navigational and combat training experience, and stimulated national aspirations for permanent overseas bases as supply depots and as a symbol of China’s global status.

But such facilities would exacerbate tensions in the Indian Ocean between China and other naval powers in the region, including India, the U.S., Britain and France. The U.S. currently operates a leased base in the Seychelles to fly surveillance drones that monitor pirate activities.

The Chinese destroyer and marching troupe stayed in the Seychelles for four days. The only other major country that sent an official delegation to the event was Russia.

CHINA TO BUY 100 RUSSIAN JETS

China and Russia reached a deal at last month’s 50th Paris Air Show for Moscow to sell 100 Sukhoi-35 fighter jets to the People’s Liberation Army — a move that ended multiyear negotiations between Moscow and Beijing. The official news outlet the Voice of Russia confirmed the news.

At the air show, Russia offered a full display of its weapons platforms meant for export. The Su-35 was the star performer, with impressive aerial demonstrations watched by a large Chinese military delegation.

The deal marked the final step in what had been a thorny issue between the two strategic allies — protecting Russia’s intellectual property rights vs. China’s insatiable appetite for copying others’ designs.

In the 1990s, Russia sold China several hundred Su-27 fighter jets, including an assembly line in Shenyang in northern China. But the Chinese cut short the manufacturing schedule and canceled plans for large production of Su-27s because they were able to copy the Su-27 design. They then began producing knockoffs of the jet, now called the J-11.

But the J-11 reportedly encountered key problems because China failed to successfully reverse engineer the Su-27’s turbine engines.

Touted as the best fourth-generation fighter jet, the Su-35 is a much improved version of the Su-27 and boasts a superior engine design. Initially, the Chinese wanted to buy just a few Su-35s, apparently as samples for reverse engineering.

The Russians became suspicious and refused to sell Su-35s in small numbers to China and instead asked China to sign a pledge that it would respect Russia’s intellectual property rights before any sales could be inked.

The negotiations lasted years. China wanted to buy just four jets, but Russia insisted on a much larger number.

The sale of 100 Su-35s to China is larger than what most analysts had expected. Russian media reported that one Su-35 costs about $80 million.

Miles Yu’s column appears Fridays. He can be reached at mmilesyu@gmail.com and @yu_miles.

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