China’s Accidental Spies: Is a Group of Chinese Bloggers Doing the Pentagon’s Work? or Beijing’s?
The jet fighter suddenly appears directly overhead, twin engines roaring, landing gear dangling like claws, diamond-shaped wings tracing an impressive black silhouette against the grayish sky. The airplane, displaying the red-star insignia of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, whips past and disappears beyond the opposite horizon.
In its wake, there is only the gray sky — and the excited chatter of a cameraman and the other airplane aficionados huddled around him. “The wind was strong!” someone says in the local Sichuan dialect, referring to the blast from the fighter’s engines.
They laugh nervously, clearly appreciating that they’ve just witnessed, and recorded, something remarkable: the second-ever test flight of the Chinese military’s very first stealth fighter prototype — the J-20 “Annihilator,” an advanced “fifth-generation” warplane that some experts say could rival America’s latest F-22 and F-35 stealth fighters — on the outskirts of Chengdu, an industrial city of 14 million in central China.
But the most remarkable thing is what would happen in the hours following the April 17 flight last year: the cameraman, using the handle “Star Not,” uploaded his video to Youku, a Chinese YouTube clone that is closely monitored by the Chinese government.
The video itself was nothing special. But the fact that it didn’t immediately disappear, yanked from the server by a vigilant censor, was.