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Chinese Arms Cauldron: the One Dollar Store (P.S No Returns Please)


Deaths of five Kenyan security personnel in an attack by Somali terrorists earlier this year has put the suitability of armoured personnel carriers purchased from China under renewed scrutiny. For the past nine years, Kenyan soldiers, have been battling the Somali militant group Al-Shabaab. In February 2016, as part of a 7.9 billion Kenyan shilling ($76 million) arms deal that was shrouded in mystery, Kenya acquired thirty Norinco VN4 armoured personnel carriers (APCs) from Beijing for patrolling the borders with Somalia. Not only Kenya but more than two-thirds of African countries are using Chinese military equipment according to The Military Balance 2016 report published in February by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). It described Africa as an increasingly important market for China’s defence exports, with Nigeria, Uganda, and Djibouti among 10 countries that had become “emergent customers” for Beijing’s arms exports since 2005.

Substandard and Unreliable Technology

On Sept 10, five security personnel died and 20 others were injured when suspected militants fired a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) at one of the Chinese-made vehicles. In 2017, six personnel and a civilian were killed in Lamu, when their APC vehicle was blown up by an improvised explosive device.

Cameroon had received four Harbin Z-9 attack helicopters from China after Beijing offered a US$100 million loan last year, but one of them had crashed soon after being handed over.

Failure of Chinese-made C-705 anti-ship missiles (fired from two of the Indonesian navy’s KCR-40-class missile attack craft during the large-scale Armada Jaya 2016 exercise in the Java Sea on September 14) failed to hit their targets. This was watched by Indonesian President JokoWidodo.

Chinese air force conducted a drill named “A Surprise Attack on Hong Kong”, and a helicopter crash caused 11 deaths in Oct 2019 and according to South China Morning Post on Oct 28 problems with engines and flight control systems were the key reasons behind fatal aircraft accidents. The second accident happened a few days later on the Tibetan Plateau where a J-10 fighter jet on a low-altitude flying drill crashed into the mountain. Engine flaws and a lack of training have been established as the likely causes of both accidents.

Poor quality of Chinese defense products and inadequate training is the reason why developed nations are not buying Chinese arms.  Last year, China failed to secure any takers for its JF-17 fighters though its officials negotiated really hard on cost also,  to secure deals for the fighter aircraft during air shows. As stated earlier, its products have found the bulk of its purchasers in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Around 35% of China’s armament exports went to Pakistan between 2013 and 2017, followed by Bangladesh which purchased 19% of its supplies. Dhaka procured 71% of its defense products from China over the five year period. Myanmar also provided 68% of its defense products from China. Pakistan which has been battling US aid cuts since 2017, also witnessed a rise in its Chinese arms imports from 45% of its total weapons to 70% of its weapons. While its own personnel training is not adequate it ensures foreign trainees are lumped in with low-quality officers from across the globe in China’s International Military Education Exchange Centre.

Warranty does not apply once sold

While the issue of substandard Chinese defense equipment has come up time and again with some rather embarrassing incidents of malfunctioning of Chinese weapons, there is no answers from China on a commitment to principled agreements. Since 2009 the state has divested itself from the “so-called” Independent arms manufacturers, which is a sham policy of being not answerable to defects and non-performance. African and Southeast Asian countries have learned the harder way. Cameroon is still negotiating with China over its loss in accident and had no any plans to buy any more Chinese weapons due to quality concerns Many countries now decide to buy weapons from the US and Russia just because of the security guarantees, similar to an alliance, which China in so far is incapable of giving to its African and Asian clients. Chinese arms manufacturers find it challenging to make sales following the failure of Chinese-made C-705 anti-ship missiles. Similar is the case with CH-4 armed drones that were purchased in the Middle East region, which broke down within months, with customers “now turning around to get rid of them”. This hasn’t still made headway with Chinese companies and government.


Much of China’s technology has been accepted to be a result of stolen military technology, in bits and pieces, from various accounts. Since the scientific research base is absent,  the technology is half baked, mostly stand-alone and does not conform to comprehensive testing and integration. Therefore it compromises on battlefield efficiency, which is an inference safely extrapolated, given the strings of failure during demonstrations and routine exercises. Where the story gets a romantic twist for Chinese, is the fact of pricing. Getting cheaper deals, though compromising on safety, operability, and effectiveness can be acceptable to local militias and smaller countries dealing with factionalism and local insurgency. African countries in turmoil shall look forward to such equipment as show of strength as well as to use against non-serious opposition,  who don’t pose an effective match to them. Cash strapped economies like Pakistan and Malaysia have no other option other than to bank heavily on China for its arms imports. While these two regimes lack concerns for its Armed forces as well as professionally serious equipment that every soldier deserves, they shall be trapped easily and always, by their corrupt helmsmen, military for former and a diabolical veteran politician in the case of latter.  Due to lack of competitors, low quality and low-cost Chinese armament shall continue to flourish, though without accountability, while any serious military nation shall not jeopardize its armed forces by compromising on professionalism.

14 Nov 19/Thursday                                                    Written by Fayaz

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