China-US relations

Air show deals highlight Russia’s prospects for arms sales to China in spite of US sanctions

  • Rosoboronexport, Russia’s state arms seller, said it signed three more weapons contracts with China during the Zhuhai Airshow
  • Moscow-Beijing ties ‘are closer than ever’ despite Washington’s sanctions, Russian official says
PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 November, 2018, 1:25pm
UPDATED : Friday, 09 November, 2018, 9:58pm

Russia’s prospects for arms sales to China remain undiminished by US sanctions after the countries signed new weapons contracts at China’s major air show.

Rosoboronexport, Russia’s state arms seller, said it signed three more weapons contracts with China during the Zhuhai Airshow, which is being held in south China’s Guangdong province until Sunday.

“Rosoboronexport expects that participation in the exhibition will give further impetus to the positive trend in Russian-Chinese relations in the field of military-technical cooperation,” director general Alexander Mikheev said.

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In September, the United States imposed sanctions on the Chinese military for buying fighter jets and missile systems from Russia, in breach of a sweeping sanctions law punishing Moscow for interference in the 2016 US election.

The sanctions were related to China’s purchase of SU-35 combat aircraft in 2017 and equipment related to the S-400 surface-to-air missile system in 2018. China ordered 24 Sukhoi-35s, 10 of which were delivered last year.

China bought the jets and missiles from Rosoboronexport, which was blacklisted in 2017 when the law known as the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act took effect.

The Chinese military was sanctioned because of its “significant transactions” with Rosoboronexport, the US said.

They blocked China’s Equipment Development Department, the branch of the Chinese military responsible for weapons and equipment, and its director, Li Shangfu, from applying for export licences and taking part in the US financial system.

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The administration also blacklisted 33 other people and entities associated with the Russian military and intelligence services.

Nevertheless, Rosoboronexport spokesman Vladimir Kryuchkov said more China-Russia arms deals were under discussion. The partnership also had expanded from its initial weapons purchases into hi-tech research and development, he said.

“If the US sanction has any impact on our cooperation with China, it only affected it to the better side,” Kryuchkov said. “Our ties with China are ever closer.”

He said he was happy to see China’s improvement in home-grown weapon technologies and did not believe the country’s advances might diminish its need for Russian products such as military aircraft engines that comprise much of Russia’s exports to China.

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The latest sales were announced by Viktor Kladov, who is leading the delegation to Zhuhai on behalf of Rosoboronexport’s parent, military industry conglomerate Rostec State Corp, the Russian state news agency Sputnik reported on Tuesday. Details of the sales were not disclosed.

Kladov also said Russia would complete the delivery of the Su-35 fighter jets and S-400 air defence systems that sparked the US sanctions against China by 2020.

Russia also could be setting up a maintenance centre in China for S-300 and S-400 missile systems. Dmitry Shugaev, head of Russia’s Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation, said such a deal would be economically viable, noting that Russia built a maintenance centre for Tor-M1 air defence missile systems in China last year.

China showcases newest weapons in Zhuhai Airshow

“I am very pleased that any attempts by third countries to interfere in relations between our countries have not produced the desired effect and are rightly perceived by China as an element of unfair competition,” Mikheev said, referring to the sanctions.

Rosoboronexport, which sells more than 85 per cent of Russia’s military exports, is putting on its largest scale exhibition of the year at Zhuhai, the biggest exhibition of military and civilian aviation products in mainland China.

The arms dealer has brought together Russia’s 14 largest defence industry manufacturers in a 1,500 square metre (16,145 sq ft) exhibition space to drive sales at the show, which opened on Tuesday and is held every two years.

The Russian companies also are trying to appeal to civilian buyers. China bought 20 Ansat lightweight Russian helicopters as air ambulances and six Mi-171A2 medium utility helicopters.