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Is this China's new stealth fighter?

Another close-up picture (above) has emerged via the Alert5 Internet forum showing what might be China's second stealth fighter. Pictures of the mystery plane first appeared about a month ago, depicting a tarpaulin-covered jet sitting on the back of a flatbed truck, rumored to be en-route to Shenyang, home of the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation. While nothing official has been said about the plane, some are guessing that it may be a full-scale mock up or prototype of the F-60 -- Shenyang's rival to Chengdu Aircraft Corporation's famous J-20 stealth fighter.

The mystery jet appears to be smaller than the J-20, perhaps better suited for dog-fighting or as a multirole air-to-air and air-to-ground jet akin to the U.S.-made F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. At first glance, it was thought to simply be a Hongdu L-15 trainer. However, the new image and last month's photos show a silhouette that, on close inspection, looks like a real-life version of this small model, dubbed the F-60, which Shenyang has displayed at trade events. (The F-60 looks shockingly like a smaller, less stealthy version of Lockheed Martin's F-22 Raptor. Note the similarities in the two jets' cockpits in these pictures.) Aircraft companies routinely show off models of concept designs that never make it off the design table, so the emergence of a full-size version of the F-60 (if that's what the jet under the tarp is) would be a fairly big deal.

Given its large size, the J-20 appears to be a high-speed weapons truck, designed either to intercept enemy fighters and bombers and shoot them down with long-range missiles -- similar to the Soviet Union's famous MiG-25 Foxbat interceptor -- or to use its relative stealth technology to get close to enemy ground and sea targets before attacking them with cruise missiles and bombs and then using its large engines to speed away. It would make sense that China wants to develop a smaller, more agile fighter that could be cheaper to produce than the J-20 and could incorporate the lessons learned in developing the giant stealth jet. It's also interesting to note that if this is a stealth fighter, it would be the second one to emerge from China in less than two years.

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A family stuck in the middle of the East China Sea

As regional powers fight for control of the China Seas, one family wants out. With the lease to the Japanese government expiring in March 2014, the Kurihara family are scrambling to sell four out of the five resource-rich and much-disputed Senkaku Islands, known as Diaoyu in China, "as early as we can."

Tokyo's inflammatory governor Shintaro Ishihara leads the bidding war after the Kurihara family today refused Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's offer, explaining, "It is not our family's idea to suddenly switch partners just because someone else has appeared on the scene." Though Ishihara's offer has not been made public, the islands' estimated value tops $19 million.

Unsurprisingly, Beijing, who claims the islands on "indisputable historical and legal grounds," has not been invited to the negotiating table and has instead renounced the sale from afar, warning in a press statement released Saturday that "no one will ever be allowed to buy and sell China's sacred territory."

The Kurihara family's sudden eagerness to sell is unsurprising. Tensions between Beijing and Tokyo peaked earlier this month after Chinese vessels repeatedly entered Japanese waters in an incident eerily reminiscent of the Scarborough Shoal affair. Claiming they were protecting Chinese fishing rights, the Chinese patrol ships refused a Japanese Coast Guard patrol's request to leave the area, instead insisting the Japanese forces leave "Chinese territorial waters" immediately. Tokyo promptly lodged two formal complaints against China before withdrawing its ambassador from Beijing in protest on July 16th. Heads butted again at Cambodia's failed ASEAN conference when Chinese Foreign Minister Yang "reaffirmed China's principled position" and stressed that countries "indisputable sovereignty."

Emotions run high on both sides as the islands have sparked dramatic conflict in the past. In 2010, Japan arrested a Chinese trawler for ramming Japanese coastguard vessels repeatedly, sparking a diplomatic row that lasted weeks and inspiring a 'Defend Diaoyu' video game. Meanwhile, the Japanese public has donated nearly $1 million to Tokyo's island fund, with the officials of the municipal government citing 197 calls of assistance in recent days in a display of widespread public support.

Though the world remains focused on the southern Spratly Islands, it may be time to look a little further east.   

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