New details on Russia’s sale of SU-27 fighter jets to China (see Monitor, February 5) indicate that Beijing has agreed to purchase up to 48 additional aircraft prior to licensing the technology that will allow them to produce the high performance Russian jet at home. China had originally purchased 24 SU-27s from Russia in 1992 in what was to have been the first installment on deliveries totaling 72 aircraft. But the deal bogged down amid recriminations over the poor quality of barter goods that China supplied in partial payment for the jets. The impasse was overcome in December 1995 during a visit by a senior Chinese military leader to Moscow, but was kept secret at Beijing’s request. Indeed, Chinese officials were reportedly upset by the announcement last week by Russia’s air force commander in chief that the sale had taken place. A Russian deputy foreign minister described the $2 billion deal as part of Moscow’s effort to increase sales of Russian military equipment without upsetting the military balance in the region. While U.S. State Department spokesmen reportedly agreed with that evaluation, the sale nevertheless comes at a time of deepening tensions between China and Taiwan. Taiwan itself will begin taking delivery later this year of 150 American F-16 fighters and 60 French Mirage-2000 fighter-bombers. (6)
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