Ex-premier Li steals the show in Zhuhai

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 November, 2010, 12:00am

Former premier Li Peng stole the show yesterday at the opening ceremony of the air show held every two years in Zhuhai - simply by showing up.

The ceremony was watched by a large number of high-ranking officials.

The top brass included vice-premier Zhang Dejiang, Central Military Commission deputy chief Guo Boxiong , provincial Communist Party secretary Wang Yang , People's Liberation Army Air Force commander Xu Qiliang and many ministerial-level officials. Li, 82, appeared to be in high spirits and good health, sitting beside Zhang and Guo in the front row on the stand.

This summer he visited his alma mater, the Beijing Institute of Technology, in mid-June to celebrate its 70th anniversary.

Widely considered a strong supporter of Zhuhai, Li helped bring significance to the air show - a week-long display of advanced weapons and military and civilian aircraft - when he was the guest of honour at the first one, held in 1996.

It has since displayed the highest standard in terms of both guests and weapons - so much so that some people have dubbed Li the 'father of the Zhuhai air show'. Not only did he attend the gala himself, but he also lobbied other senior officials to accompany him.

The focus isn't just on who's watching, but on the weaponry. Antony Wong Dong, president of the International Military Association in Macau, said that with Russia playing a much less prominent role after being accused at a previous show of stealing technology, China had put more into the event.

'With the fading out of Russia ... China must shore up its weapons expo with its own products.

'That's why we see the PLA has shown an unprecedentedly large number of relatively advanced weapons.

'For instance, the long-awaited JF-17 Thunder fighter jet made its debut in the air, aside from a team of Jian-10s flying.'

A squadron of Jian-10 fighters flown by the August 1 Aerobatic Team received thunderous applause. The crowd obviously enjoyed the way they flew in formation in and out of the clouds. A colonel from the Venezuelan Air Force was very impressed by the performance.

'The J-10 is such a good fighter jet,' he said. 'It's comparable to America's F-16.'

But an amateur photographer, who said he had attended every air show since 1996, was not impressed.

Zhao Weiqun said the standard of flying in formation was not as high as in 2008. He admitted the grey skies dampened his enthusiasm. It was 'probably another reason why I felt disappointed', he said.

A Chinese military expert felt the performance by the J-10s was lousy. 'If I were an ordinary spectator, I might have been satisfied,' he said, but people familiar with military matters could see the pilots were too cautious. He said they failed to 'seize the opportunity' to show off what the aircraft could do.

He also pointed to the cloudy weather and said this cast the show in an unfavourable light. However, Chinese pilots were among the world's best, he said.

Apart from the J-10s and the JF-17s - jointly made by the PLA and Pakistan - China also displayed other aircraft, such as the L-15, a home-made trainer; the C919, the first domestically designed narrow-bodied jet airliner; and the ARJ21, a regional jet.