17 September 2016
One of the frequent arguments made about China’s 20-year-long military buildup is that its locally produced weapons are better than they used to be. To a certain extent this is true, if hardly surprising. Relatively modern systems, such as the J-10 fighter jet, the Yuan-class submarine, and the Type-99 main battle tank, are certainly superior to the weapons systems they replaced, that is, the J-7, the Ming-class sub, and the Type-59 tank – all basically copies of Soviet weapons dating back to the 1950s. They could not help but be better.
At the same time, it is true that some current Chinese arms are highly competitive with their Western or Russian counterparts. These include unmanned aerial vehicles, anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs), shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, and lightweight trainer jets. But all this raises an important point: if Chinese weapons are supposed to be so great, how come hardly any other country wants to buy them?
On paper, China looks like a quite successful arms exporter. Last year, Beijing transferred nearly $2 billion worth of arms, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Moreover, SIPRI data for the period 2011 to 2015 showed that China was the world’s third largest arms exporter, accounting for nearly 6% of the total arms market. This is nearly double what China exported during the period 2006 to 2010.
In recent years, Beijing has chalked up some impressive overseas sales, including deals to export eightYuan-class submarines to Pakistan and three to Thailand. China has also sold tanks to Myanmar, ASCMs to Indonesia, and armed drones to Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Nigeria, and Egypt.
… Richard A. Bitzinger is a Senior Fellow and Coordinator of the Military Transformations Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. The opinions expressed here are his own.
IDSS / Online
Last updated on 20/09/2016