In 1998, the former Russian carrier Varyag was bought by a Chinese firm for use as a “tourist attraction.” Nobody believed that, and by 2005, she was in drydock for secret refits. Still, a carrier needs planes. Near the end of October 2006, Russia’s Kommersant newspaper revealed that Russian state-run weapon exporter Rosoboronexport was in negotiations with China to deliver SU-33s, a variant of Sukhoi’s SU-27 Flanker with forward canards, foldings wings, an arrester hook, a reinforced structure, and other modifications that help it deal with carrier operations and landings.
By 2009, Russian media were reporting a breakdown of negotiations, citing low order numbers and past pirating of Russian SU-27/30 designs. China built on that prior piracy to produce its SU-33 look-alike “J-15,” with the reported assistance of an SU-33 prototype bought from the Ukraine. It’s now 2012, and China’s myriad deceptions have served their purpose. They don’t have an active carrier force yet, but they’re very close.