The tension caused by territorial disputes in the South China Sea seems unlikely to ease in the near future, given the almost-completion of Chinese runways on reclaimed land and Beijing's possible deployment of J-11 fighter jets there, according to a Hong Kong newspaper report.
If China goes ahead, the deployment in the Spratly islands, which China and Taiwan call Nansha, "would dramatically extend the reach of the nation's military beyond its southernmost base at Sanya on Hainan island," said the June 21 report published in the English-language South China Morning Post, citing unnamed analysts.
However, the report said the jets, built based on the Soviet-designed Su-27, would be limited to a defensive role because it is an older model outclassed by aircraft in the US Air Force.
The report said the J-11s have a range of 1,500 kilometers, which can be extended with additional fuel tanks. "Setting up operations on the islands would move the reach of China's air force about 1,000 km further south, and in conjunction with the Liaoning aircraft carrier, take China towards its stated goal of moving away from offshore defense to open-sea protection," it said.
David Tsui, a military expert at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, said the J-11s are only enough to defend the seven islands claimed by China in the region but are not sophisticated enough to be used in an attack, the report said.
China's key rival will be the United States, and Beijing knows that if its military uses coercive measures or force to resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea, the US will definitely interfere, Tsui was cited as saying.
"China's first carrier-based jet, the J-15, might be advanced enough to challenge the US F-18, but the People's Liberation Army Air Force's main fighter jets, the J-11 and its variants, cannot compete with the F-22 and F-35 currently deployed by the US," Tsui said.