Russian Arms Sales to China Drying Up

Richard Weitz of the conservative Hudson Institute reports that increasingly China is relying on home industries to provide high tech weaponry rather than buying arms from Russia.

Since 2001, Russia has sold over $16 billion worth of arms to China, accounting for nearly 40 percent of all major Russian arms sales. In recent years, however, things have changed. China “stopped purchasing Russian warships or warplanes,” knows Weitz, and it hasn’t signed any new multibillion arms sale contracts.

The director of Russia’s state-controlled arms export company, Rosoboronexport, recently forecast that the value of Russian arms sold to China could decline to as low a level as 10 percent of the value of all Russian military exports in coming years. Some defense experts believe that figure could fall even further.

At Defense Tech, Greg Grant writes that “China now competes with Russia in lucrative international arms markets by offering Russian knock-offs at bargain prices.”

Chinese firms’ adroitness at reverse engineering foreign technology is well known.

For example, Grant notes the Chinese built Shenyang J-11 fighter plane which is functionally identical to the Russian Sukhoi Su-27. Russia granted Beijing the Su-27 design in 1995 with the latter agreeing to purchase two hundred kits and produce it under local license. After building just half that number of planes, the Chinese canceled the contract, claiming that the jet no longer met their requirements. Soon after, the knock off J-11 appeared for sale on the international market. Somewhere between 120 and 130 have been built.

One may be tempted to predict that the Russians will seize selling arms to China altogether in the near future, especially considering their lingering discontent with China’s presumed intentions in East and Central Asia. The sheer volume of Russian weapons exports to their neighboring great power might compel them to think twice before pulling the plug though.