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.
Commentators say the air show will be an opportunity for China to show the world its industry has overcome the pandemic.
“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.
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.
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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