Sunday, 29 May, 2022
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China has become a major exporter of armed drones, Pakistan is among its 11 customers

Defence experts say Chinese arms supplies, especially in India’s neighbourhood, should be a cause for concern.

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New Delhi: From being one of the biggest importers, China is fast becoming a leading global arms supplier, with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) leading its foray into multiple countries, including Pakistan.

China is also exporting a whole bunch of assault rifles, ammunition, fighter planes and even submarines.

A new research paper on Chinese drone exports — written by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and Texas A&M University, with excerpts published by Foreign Affairs — reveals that 18 countries obtained armed drones from 2011 to 2019. Eleven of these countries bought the drones from China, the paper states. 

Prior to 2011, just three countries had armed drones — the United States, the United Kingdom and Israel.

“The rapid rise in drone deployment has coincided with China’s emergence as a major supplier,” the research paper says. “From 2011 to 2019, 11 of those 18 countries we tracked bought armed drones from China.” 

It adds that at least as early as 2011, China started negotiating with countries such as the UAE and Pakistan to sell them armed UAVs.

“Since then, China has dominated the export market for armed UAVs. Of the 18 countries that have acquired armed drones since 2010 (not including China), 11 have bought from China,” it says, adding that the countries include Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Uzbekistan, among others.

The United States, the paper adds, just supplied drones to France during this period, while it is in negotiations with India to sell armed predator drones.

A significant aspect of the research paper is that it comes to the conclusion that non-democracies were over four times more likely to pursue armed drones than democracies after China entered the armed drone export market. 

Also read: New Chinese village in Bhutan? China journalist’s tweet starts row, Thimphu denies encroachment

China not a signatory to MTCR

What helps China in export of armed drones is that, unlike the US, it is not a signatory to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) that came into being in 1987, during the Cold War, to prevent the spread of missiles that could carry weapons of mass destruction. 

According to the MTCR, the US and other signatories cannot export Category I systems — those that can travel more than 300 km and carry a payload of more than 500 kg. 

A March 2020 report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), a Sweden-based organisation that offers data and analysis on arms trade, stated that even though China claims it follows the MTCR, Beijing imposes relatively fewer restrictions on how buyers use the weapons they import — even if doing so violates international law and human rights.

China firms among top 10 arms exporters 

Drones, however, aren’t the only weapons that the Chinese are exporting. 

Another report by SIPRI suggests that three of the world’s top 10 arms companies are Chinese. 

“We can with confidence say that China is the second-largest arms producer in the world, behind the US and ahead of Russia,” Nan Tian, co-author of the report, was quoted as saying by the Japan Times

According to the first SIPRI report, China emerged as the world’s fifth-largest arms exporter in 2015–19 and accounted for 5.5 per cent of total arms exports. 

The report adds that the number of countries to which China delivers arms has also grown significantly: From 40 in 2010–14 to 53 in 2015–19. Pakistan was the main recipient (35 per cent) in 2015–19, as it has been for all five-year periods since 1991, it states.

Also read: China continues infrastructure build-up along LAC, amid disengagement talks with India

China exports arms into Indian neighbourhood

According to intelligence inputs, Pakistan is getting at least four latest versions of Chinese armed drones for protection of the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Besides this, China is also supplying Pakistan with eight new conventional (diesel) submarines. The two countries jointly manufacture the JF-17 fighter planes and Pakistan receives Chinese assault rifles.

When it comes to India’s neighbourhood, China supplies weapons to all countries, including Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar.

According to the US-based think tank Centre for Strategic and International Studies, most of Beijing’s arms exports are sold to countries closer to home.

“Despite low levels of arms exports throughout the mid-1990s and into the mid-2000s, most of what China did export (82.8 per cent) were shipped to countries across Asia,” it said. 

“This trend has continued as China has emerged as a leader in the global arms trade,” it added. “A combined 61.3 per cent of China’s conventional weapons sales since 2008 have found their way to Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Myanmar. Other Asian countries have purchased an additional 14 per cent of Chinese arms.”

Chinese arms supplies a concern for India

Former Army chief General V.P. Malik (Retd) said the arms supplied by China to Pakistan were a concern. He added that, during the Kargil battle of 1999, there were reports that small flying objects were seen near the Line of Control (LoC).

“At that time, drones were not something that we had in mind and hence we could not say for sure what they were,” he said. 

Former Navy chief Admiral Prakash (Retd) echoed Gen Malik’s views. “The biggest customers of Chinese arms are in India’s neighbourhood,” Admiral Prakash said. “This includes Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar. And then beyond the immediate neighbourhood but still significant.” 

He explained that the reason why India cannot get out of Russian influence is that “we, as a country, are beholden to them since 60-70 per cent of military equipment is from that country”.

“When you supply arms to a country, you are buying yourself a lot of influence there too and not just selling equipment,” he said, adding that some of the markets in India’s immediate neighbourhood are those where “we should have had a play and hence the Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) must question itself”. 

Former director general (artillery) Lt Gen P. Ravi Shankar (Retd), an officer who has been part of the induction of every drone in the Army since 2000, said the fact that China is exporting armed drones should be a concern to India because the country does not have one.

“What China is exporting is basic armed drones but I believe they have the capability and the technology for bigger armed drones that they themselves use,” said the officer, who is now associated with the IIT-Madras’ drone UAV programme. 

Also read: Drones won the war for Azerbaijan. India must spend military modernisation money wisely


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  1. India is trying to wear shoes which is not his size.. fighting with China and Pakistan just because Israel and America wants to make India the goat. Use ur brain and have peace with neighbours rather than planning attacks on other countries just because America wants it. They are sitting far away and who would have to suffer India.. they will leave India in a mess to deal.with neighbours when they see India loosing. Recent jet was shot down by Pakistan.. they had abhinandan as well captured.. fighting both countries at the same time including China .. hmmmm

  2. Man behind the machine is important. Indian soldiers are the most battle hardened persons in the world today. It may be noted that in the war against Pakistan Indian Air force with Ghat aircraft shot down many American Saberjets. There was graveyard of Patton tanks. Chinese soldiers are pampered lot. One child norm has made them to live in comfort, will they be ready to make ultimate sacrifice.

    • Yes thats what everybody thinks about their armed forces. I am surprised that many people have not noticed that every country grooms their countrymen in favour of their armed forces as part of psychological warfare. Have you forgotten the previous china india war? Have you forgotten the Indian jet shot rlthis year?

    • O Shutp bullshit we know your battle harder army. 2 jet shot Pakistan and capture pilot or China kill 20 soldiers in ladakh Maoist shot 22 indian soldiers and one commando kidnap. America violence your sea territory. Indian solder arrest sale bharmos missle data to Pakistan. This is your no 1 battle army. What you are talking

  3. Many Indian deficiencies are coming to the fore. We are divided as a nation. Our first British Lap Dob Prime Minister set us up on a wrong pat as far as defense was concerned. He put us on the back foot. We do not invest anything into building self sufficiency in defense equipment. These things are not hard to make and once can develop the technology over a couple of decades and come to par with the best. If we have not done this in 70 years of independence, we are bound to lose the war for the neighborhood with CHINA!!!!!!!

  4. While China is capable of exporting world best drones and weapons including indigenous 4th Gen fighter jets JF17, AIP submarines, warships,…India is importing even rifles and ammunition.

    Yet India has not given up its covet on taking China’s Tibet even after 1962 humiliation. It tried to make incursion into Arsai Chin again in Apr, thinking China will be overwhelmed by US COVID bioattack. But it get a bloody nose instead.

    China managed to control the outbreak successfully, with economy turn around quickly. Whereas India disastrous lockdown had lost control of the COVID outbreak, with economy collapsing 25%. Yet it double down with 200,000 troops deployment threatening war, even it lack logistic and stockpile to last a 10days war.

    If war break out, it will be one sided slaughtering by Chinese , like recent N-K war, much worst than 1962 since China economy is now 6x larger than India with most advanced weapons like 5th Gen J20 & EW.

    But mother nature Winter will take care of India in Ladakh without China firing a shot. So will the ailing India economy & chronic COVID pandemic. Its exit of RCEP made India neither in Asia trade block nor in West, where Trumps even removed India preferential status.

    Instead of riding China wave to join the prosperous peaceful Asia Century, Modi has opted to fight China to last Indians for US hegemony. Now India will pay the unbearable heavy price to try include inhabitable Arsai Chin in its new map.

    • Laughable comment at best, and at worst just shows the level of education in Pakistan.
      JF20 isn’t fifth gen, barely fourth gen. JF-17 as well as JF-20 are re-engineered Soviet planes, nothing indigenous about them. As for rest of your points, lesser said about them better it will be.

      The important thing to know, and understand for Pakistanis is unlike Pak, India is and always was strategically autonomous which is a difficult situation to understand for Pakistanis who’ve grown up seeing their country’s leaders running post to pillar with hat in their hand living off on alms and aid. Do remember though when China will come for its pound for flesh for all the loans and aid it has given to Pak, don’t come running to India for help.

  5. Why is the champion of democracy afraid of simple comment from an ordinary citizen? What are we hiding from?

  6. The most sophisticated drone Bayraktar which decimated Armenian armories are supposedly made from Western Hardware with Chinese Software. It was also reported that a single Chinese drone in the hands of inexperience General Haftar forces hunted down 13 Bayraktar until it was shot down by Turkish Forces in Libya. Just imagine how sophisticated the Chinese drones might be. It has rattled the Western countries.

  7. Turkish most sophisticated drone used in Nagorno Karabakh Bayraktar which decimated the Armenian armories were reportedly made from hardwares sourced from the West and sophisticated software from China. It was reported that a single Chinese drone in the Libya from inexperience Haftar forces hunted down 13 bayraktar until it was shot down by the Turkish forces. Just imagine how sophisticated the Chinese drone must be.

  8. when was China a major importer of defence related products? as you have stated in the article. surely you’re not suggesting that several billions can be compared to the hundred billion that India has spent on imports in the last decade and a half.
    China has been investing in education and technology, granted it’s not there yet but it has achieved in three decades is phenomenal by any standards, uplifted 300 million people from poverty, as we don’t suffer from a caste system everybody is given chance to develop, as for selling weaponry to different states, then that’s based on a nation’s strategic interests, just as the US was selling to dictatorial regimes around the world and still does.

  9. How can China sell Arms and Ammunition to rogue countries. Developed countries with a sound Democracy, should not exchange such technologies with countries like China. Outsourcing to China has created a bully in Asian Pacific region.

  10. Your writing, knowledge, journalism is so poor, you mention Egypt in Africa but not Nigeria, biggest buyer of China’s weapons and armed drones in Africa, only country in the world to use a dozen China made armed drones in real full blown war for 7 years.

  11. What’s the essence of this research finding? Is it to tell us that it is wrong for China to export arms? What’s exactly is the point?

  12. Final destination of these Drone supply is destroying India only. Pakistan will never keep quite . Both China and Pakistan joining to aim india. Coming two phase of Five year plans may be deciding factor to india. One side these sort of attacks by pakistan supported by china and inside lot of instigation by some people are crucial for J and k. Ten years india need huge infrastructure development, corruption controll, Protecting border . Huge money support Honestly need to be invested

  13. If India acted like the Canada of USA, India could have made use of China and strengthen itself

    It’s foolishness to enter a fight with China listening to the USA who themselves sold advanced F16 fight jets to Pakistanis

  14. We have already vasted Most Valuable Time with unhealthy Internal Politics by TOTALLY NEGLECTING THE DEVELOPMENTS OF A STRONG DEFFENCE SYSTEMS.
    We have No Choice Now to Develop A SELF DEFENCE SYSTEMS. Unless we are going to STABILIZE OUR DEFFENCE SYSTEMS WITH SELF RELAIABLE RESOURCES from OME TO TIME NEEDS OF TJE HOUR we can not Face The Highly Sofesticately Developed WARS.
    BETTER LATE THAN NEVER , Lertt us UNITEDLY Pray GOD TO Protecr our Deffence Personnel and others in The Que to have GOOD HEALTH ALWAYS.

    WIth Best Wishes For Betterment Always ,

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