The Zhuhai Airshow Confirms China’s Emergence as a Defense Industrial Power

The Zhuhai Airshow Confirms China’s Emergence as a Defense Industrial Power
J-20 stealth fighter jets of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force perform during the 12th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai, Guangdong province, China, Nov. 11, 2018 (Imaginechina photo via AP Images).

In early November, at its flagship biennial airshow in the southern city of Zhuhai, China displayed the latest accomplishments of its aerospace and defense industries. This year’s exhibition provides further evidence of China’s emergence as a major defense industrial power, one capable of equipping the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and foreign militaries with world-class military equipment. In the context of intensifying great-power competition between the United States and China, the rapidly increasing capacities of China’s defense industry are likely to play an important role in helping Beijing realize its goal of turning the PLA into a top-tier military and cementing China’s fast-improving military position in Asia.

Although officially called an airshow, the Zhuhai exhibition is of far greater significance, serving as the highest-profile venue for China’s increasingly sophisticated and rapidly growing aerospace and defense industrial sectors. The airshow is also somewhat unusual in that the majority of participants are Chinese companies. In part, this is a function of the arms embargo imposed on China by the United States and the European Union, as well as the export controls the U.S. and EU put in place for component systems. At the same time, it is a testament to China’s growing self-sufficiency in modern armaments.

The earliest iterations of the Zhuhai airshow, which was first held in 1996, were blips on the radar of the multibillion-dollar international aerospace and arms industries, mainly showcasing China’s many major shortcomings in both military and civilian aerospace technology. Since then, subsequent editions have served as a powerful indicator of China’s rapid technological advances and the growing capacity of its defense industry to produce modern military equipment for both domestic and international customers.

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