The weapons sales making China a big gun in Southeast Asia
China is gradually stepping up military engagement with Southeast Asia, building on the firm economic footings it has established in the region.
The latest move came on Thursday when China gave 3,000 assault rifles to the Philippines as a gesture of “friendly and cooperative relations”. It was Beijing’s second shipment of guns to Manila and another sign of a warming in ties between the two countries since President Rodrigo Duterte came to power last year.
The rifles, valued at about US$3.3 million, will all go to the Philippine National Police, which US legislators last year blocked from buying about 26,000 M4 rifles from the United States.
Other countries in the region are also forging stronger military ties with China.
The Royal Thai Army is preparing to take delivery of its first batch of 28 VT4 main battle tanks from China, 18 months after agreeing to buy them for US$147 million.
The tanks, made by China North Industries, are expected to arrive at the Royal Thai Navy’s Sattahip Naval Base next week.
Thailand also put in orders for a trio of Type 039A Yuan-class diesel-electric attack submarines in late 2016 and VN1 infantry fighting vehicles in March.
Malaysia agreed to buy four Chinese coastal patrol vessels known as littoral mission ships when Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak visited China on November. Two will be built in China and two in Malaysia. The deal is worth about US$277 million.
Kuala Lumpur’s push to strengthen ties with China comes after the US Department of Justice filed lawsuits implicating Najib in a money-laundering scandal. Najib has denied any wrongdoing and said Malaysia would cooperate in the international investigations.
China is Myanmar’s biggest supplier of weapons, providing most of its fighter aircraft, armoured vehicles, guns and naval ships.
The People’s Liberation Army Navy transferred two of its older Type 053H1 frigates to the Myanmar Navy in 2012.
In May, the navies of the two countries held their first joint exercises. The drills, involving the guided missile destroyer Changchun, guided missile frigate Jingzhou and supply ship Chaohu, signalled China’s growing naval presence in the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean.
The Indonesian Navy last year signed a deal to buy a Chinese Type 730 shipbourne close-in weapon system.
The radar-guided, Gatling gun-style system was installed in an Indonesian frigate to bolster defences against anti-ship missiles and precision-guided munitions.
Indonesia also ordered C-802 anti-ship missiles, portable surface-to-air missiles and air search radars from China between 2005 and 2009.
In addition, the two countries have agreed to exchange technology for certain kinds of military equipment.