Nato member Turkey has chosen a Chinese defence firm that has been sanctioned by Washington to co-produce a US$4 billion long-range air and missile defence system, rejecting rival bids from Russian, US and European firms.
The Turkish defence minister announced the decision to award the contract to China Precision Machinery Import and Export Corp (CPMIEC) in a statement on Thursday.
In February, the United States announced sanctions on CPMIEC for violations of the Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Act.
It did not say precisely what CPMIEC had done, but Washington has penalised the company before. In 2003, Washington said it was extending sanctions on the firm for arms sales to Iran. It was unclear when those measures were first imposed.
Officials at state-run CPMIEC, the marketing arm of China’s missile manufacturing industry, could not immediately be reached for comment.
Turkey, which has the second-largest deployable military force in the NATO alliance, has no long-range missile defence system of its own, but NATO has deployed the US-built Patriot air and missile defence system there since last year.
The winning Chinese FD-2000 system beat the Patriot, the Russian S-400 and the French-Italian Eurosam Samp-T.
Raytheon, which builds the Patriot missile system, said it had been informed about the Turkish decision and hoped to get a briefing soon. It said there were 200 Patriot units deployed in 12 countries, including Turkey.
“Nato has long supported the system, deploying Patriots in five aligned countries and, last year, providing a requested Patriot deployment to Turkey. Given this strong performance, we hope to have an opportunity to debrief and learn more about this decision,” Raytheon spokesman Mike Doble said.
CPMIEC does not make missiles itself. The two main manufacturers are China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp (CASC) and China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp (CASIC). CASC makes intercontinental ballistic missiles, while CASIC focuses on short- and intermediate-range rockets.
After decades of steep military spending increases and cash injections into local contractors, experts say some Chinese-made equipment is now comparable to Russian or Western weaponry.
China became the world’s fifth-biggest arms supplier last year, with 5 per cent of the market, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Pakistan was its biggest customer.