A private Chinese company plans to buy 100 Russian Sukhoi Superjet-100 planes worth 3.5 billion dollars. The Sukhoi firm is internationally famous for its military aircraft such as the Su-15 interceptor, the Su-30 bomber, the Su-35 multirole fighter and the T50 stealth fighter plane. The China Daily reported that the project on buying the Sukhoi planes is yet to be approved by the Chinese State Council. In an exclusive interview to VoR Richard Weitz, Director & Senior Fellow of the US Center for Political-Military Analysis at Hudson Institute, explains what exactly the Chinese grand gesture can mean.
In your opinion, could China’s decision to purchase Superjet planes be viewed as a gesture of support following a series of sanctions imposed by the West against Moscow over the Ukraine issue?
Richard Weitz: It is possible that the timing might have been meant to do that, but, of course, China has seen a series of these deals over the past few years, even going back to the post-Tiananmen sanctions. So, for two decades the Chinese got their best aviation technology, particularly the engines, from Russia. The fact that they are buying these planes is not surprising. I mean, Russia makes very good airplanes. And the Chinese, although they’ve made progress in many high technology areas, still can’t make a top-of-the-line jet engine.
Are there chances for Russian Sukhoi Superjet planes to compete with other major plane-makers?
Richard Weitz: I think that’s the intent. My understanding is that it is designed to appeal to countries that want a very good plane, but don’t want to pay the price premium that would come for buying a US or a European plane. Maybe you get 90-95% of their capabilities at a third of the price. So, it hits that nice, sweet point for many countries. And we are seeing this in a military technology as well.
Could this deal between Russian and Chinese manufacturers mean that Moscow is switching over to the eastern market?
Richard Weitz: Well, Russia has been trying to do that generally for a while. As you know, for historical reasons the Russian economic links were directed primarily towards the former Soviet republics, to the south and then to the European markets. The Russian policy makers have tried to diversify that, as have the Americans and even the Europeans. We see the opportunities in Asia, very dynamic economies, fast growing markets, large population. So, people are naturally trying to go there. And it makes sense for Russia to try and develop, especially beyond selling oil and gas, try and sell aviation, components and other items to that market.