China, Russia Replacing U.S. as Pakistan’s Major Arms Suppliers

KEY POINTS: US Arms Deliveries to India Has Grown by 557 Percent During the Period 2008 and 2017; A Chinese defense analyst says there is no military alliance between China and Pakistan, but “China’s arms exports to Pakistan are a powerful weapon to safeguard the South Asian country’s military sovereignty.”.

(DESPARDES/PKONWEB) — As the Trump administration targets Pakistan, the country is gradually reducing its dependence on American military technology and China is filling the gap, says a Financial Times report, which also warns that this shift will have geopolitical repercussions.

The report dovetails Newsweek’s report 2 months earlier. In an interview with FT published in January, Pakistan’s defense minister Khurram Dastgir Khan had said his country was undergoing a “regional recalibration” of its “foreign and security policy.”

Part of that recalibration involves Pakistan reaching out to China and Russia for new military supplies.

“The fact that we have recalibrated our way towards better relations with Russia, deepening our relationship with China, is a response to what the Americans have been doing,” Khan had said.

Khan’s comments came weeks after Chinese military officials told the South China Morning Post that Beijing revealed it would build an offshore naval base near Gwadar Port, in the province of Balochistan, the Newsweek had reported.

The latest FT report notes that the shift started in the last few months of Obama administration, when Congress blocked the sale of eight F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan– its non-Nato ally.

In Islamabad, this move was seen as a confirmation of Pakistan’s fear that the United States “could no longer be relied on as their armed forces’ primary source of advanced weapons”, the report adds.

The US ban accelerated Pakistan’s efforts to shift its “military procurement away from American-made weapons towards Chinese ones, or those made domestically with Chinese support.”

The report also quotes data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, showing that since 2010, US weapons exports to Pakistan plummeted from $1 billion to just $21 million last year.

During the same period, those from China have also fallen, but much more slowly — from $747m to $514m, making China the biggest weapons exporter to Pakistan.

“The shift coincided with Islamabad’s growing suspicion about the closeness between the US and India, but was accelerated by the killing of Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden on Pakistani soil in 2011, which badly damaged relations with the US,” the report added.

President Donald Trump’s decision to suspend $2bn of Coalition Support Fund (CSF) related cost reimbursements and security aid to Pakistan – announced in January – further exacerbated the situation.

Identifying one immediate impact of the move, the FT noted that US officials were “now finding that Islamabad is less responsive than usual” to their requests for support in Afghanistan.

Harrison Akins, a research fellow at the Howard H Baker Jr Center for Public Policy at the University of Tennessee, told FT: “The Trump administration’s decision … can only push Pakistan further into the arms of Beijing – especially with Pakistan’s shift from US military supplies to Chinese military supplies.”

Once dubbed “iron brothers” by the now retired vice-chairman of China’s Central Military Commission Fan Changlong, the two countries are steadily increasing cooperation on military and defense matters as they seek to counter the perceived threat from rivals India and the United States– US arms deliveries to India grew by 557 per cent between 2008 and 2017, according to a report in SCMP.

Last month, Chinese officials revealed Beijing has sold Pakistan a powerful missile tracking system which was  recently deployed “at a firing range” for use in testing and developing new missiles,

In 2016, Beijing agreed to sell Pakistan eight modified diesel-electric attack submarines by 2028 in a deal valued at between US$4 billion and US$5 billion on a long-term low-interest rate loan to to cover their cost.

Among other things, Beijing and Islamabad agreed to “safeguard the security of the ($62 billion) ChinaPakistan Economic Corridor”considered a game-changer in region’s geoconomics and geopolitics– CPEC is the flagship project of Beijing’s ambitious Belt and Road initiative (BRI).

At the same time, Islamabad has crossed the Rubicon with its one time Cold War adversary Russia.

Earlier this month, Defense Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan confirmed to Russian media outlet Sputnik that Islamabad was in talks with Moscow on the issue of purchasing air defense systems, adding that Pakistan was interested in such weapons. “Air defense system is a different kind of weapon we are interested in.”

The report also identified longer term consequences of this development, noting that sales of weapons systems, often backed by preferential financial terms, were central to the way the US managed its network of military alliances and partnerships. But many of those countries were now buying some of that hardware from other governments, particularly China.

No China-Pakistan military alliance

A senior Chinese defense analyst recently wrote that there is no military alliance between China and Pakistan, but “China’s arms exports to Pakistan are a powerful weapon to safeguard the South Asian country’s military sovereignty.”

It is Pakistan’s full right to choose who to buy from in the global arms market, which has long been dominated by the US, wrote Hu Weijia in his most recent article in the Global Times.

According to Hu, Washington always imposes conditions such as political criteria and strategic arrangement for its economic aid.

Military assistance works the same way, he added. “One of the US principles in arms exports is targeting turbulent regions and supporting its allies in those areas through defense exports to maximize US national interests.”

Hu said, “It is normal to see Pakistan making efforts to diversify the sources of its arms imports. That’s where China comes in. Although China’s overall strength in military technology still lags behind that of the US, the country’s defense products have emerged in the world’s arms market with a high performance-to-price ratio.”

“China’s rising profile in this field gives options to arms importers like Pakistan, breaking the Western hegemony in military sales.

As for China’s arms exports, the government has always taken a prudent and responsible attitude to carry out strict management in accordance with relevant UN Security Council resolutions and Chinese laws.

China’s arms exports will be conductive to enhancing recipient countries’ capability of legitimate self-defense.

The Chinese government imposes no political conditions in the arms trade. Beijing doesn’t allow its arms exports to disturb regional peace, but it also has no intention of interfering in the internal affairs of the recipient countries. What lies behind the increasing interest of Pakistan in working with China in arms trade is its intention of safeguarding the country’s military sovereignty.

China’s arms exports to Pakistan will not lead to a military alliance; instead, they will strengthen the South Asian country’s military sovereignty.”

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