China May Buy More Advanced Russian Jets, Ignoring U.S. Sanctions

China is reportedly considering an offer to purchase more advanced Russian fighter jets, once again ignoring U.S. sanctions.

The state-run Tass Russian News Agency cited the Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation as saying Wednesday it was "expecting a response from China on our offer to purchase modern weapons and military equipment manufactured in Russia, including additional batches of Su-35 fighter jets."

The aircraft is an upgraded version of the Sukhoi Su-27 and Beijing already bought two dozen for some $2.5 billion.

Official China Central Television column Weihutang issued a report of its own Saturday suggesting that a second batch could help to further modernize the Chinese air force's aging fleet. On Sunday, however, Chinese air defense expert Fu Qianshao told Chinese Communist Party tabloid The Global Times that there would likely be another reason for the purchase.

Fu argued that, rather than simply bringing China's aerial capabilities up to date, such an acquisition would secure more spare parts and dedicated personnel involved in the Su-35 program. He also suggested that the purchase could have political and economic elements, demonstrating close ties between China and Russia at a time when their relationship with the U.S. deteriorated.

china russia su-35 fighter jet
A fleet of China-owned Sukhoi Su-35s is deployed in this undated photo, shared by the Chinese air force to social media site Sina Weibo. Russia has offered to sell China another batch of the upgraded fighter jet. Chinese People's Liberation Army

This explanation was accepted by Michael Peck, writing Monday for The National Interest. The Diplomat's senior editor Franz-Stefan Gady also commented on the potential purchase, explaining Thursday that the Chinese Su-35 "can reportedly be with air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles, unguided rockets, guided bomb units and unguided bombs including the R-27 (AA-10 'Alamo'), R-73 (AA-11 'Archer'), RVV-family air-to-air missiles, as well as Kh-35E (AS-20 'Kayak') anti-ship missiles."

Sukhoi described the Su-35 as "a multi-purpose, super-maneuverable fighter of the fourth-plus-plus generation" that received its "baptism of fire" through its participation in Russia's campaign against rebels and jihadis seeking to overthrow the government in Syria. The aircraft was said capable of tracking up to 30 air targets at once and engaging eight, among other high-tech feats.

China first signed a deal to buy 24 Su-35s back in 2015 and the Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation reported last April that the delivery was complete. In September, the State Department announced it would be sanctioning the Equipment Development Department of China's Central Military Commission over its acquisition of Russia's "Su-35 combat aircraft and S-400 surface-to-air missile system-related equipment."

The first-ever use of the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act angered both Moscow and Beijing, with Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang arguing at the time that Washington "seriously violated the basic norms governing international relations and seriously damaged the relations between the two countries and the two militaries."

The following day, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged to do more business in their respective national currencies to minimize their dependence on the U.S. dollar at the Eastern Economic Forum in Russia's Vladivostok. Beijing has also joined Moscow for a record number of joint military exercises in recent years as Putin signed on to Xi's ambitious Belt and Road Initiative envisioning hundreds of billions of dollars worth of infrastructure projects across the globe.

The U.S. has attempted to push back against China's growing economic clout abroad and has at the same time challenged its broad territorial claims in the contested waters of the South China Sea. The Su-35 has at times been dispatched for patrols in the disputed region, where China has repeatedly warned the U.S. Navy against "freedom of navigation" within the Pacific maritime borders claimed by Beijing.