Chinese arms makers pitching for more orders in SE Asia

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Chinese arms makers have been frequenting arms and defense  exhibitions, from this year's Singapore Air Show to the just concluded Defense Service Asia in Kuala Lumpur. Photo: Xinhua

Littoral mission ships were among the made-in-China craft on display at the biennial Defense Services Asia trade fair and conference for defense technology and security systems, which finished earlier this week in Kuala Lumpur.

Malaysia placed orders with the state-owned China Shipbuilding & Offshore International Co, Ltd (CSOC) for several patrol ships to boost its fleet.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and Royal Malaysian Navy chief Ahmad Kamarulzaman toured the Chinese pavilions, while Chinese arms, weapons makers and dealers lost no time touting the cost, performance and reliability of their ships and guns.

The contract was signed during Najib’s visit to China in May 2017, under which CSOC would help build the first two patrol ships, while the remaining pair would be assembled by Malaysian contractors via technology transfer.

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A model of a littoral mission ship on display. Photo: CSOC

Malaysian media also reported that detailed models of People’s Liberation Army corvettes, nuclear-powered submarines as well as the force’s only aircraft carrier in service, the Liaoning, were among the featured exhibits to showcase not only the prowess of the Chinese military, but also the level of engineering and servicing of Chinese shipbuilders.

A CSOC deputy general manager told Xinhua that on top of the littoral mission ship deals for localized production, they also aimed to penetrate deeper into the buoyant Southeast Asian defense market, using Malaysia as a stepping stone and also a showroom.

More China-made surface vessels and submarines are set to sail into Malaysian waters, like small to medium-sized submarines with displacements ranging from 200 to 2,600 tons as well as versatile corvettes of up to 4,000 tons, as ties between Beijing and Kuala Lumpur remain amicable.

Peripheral equipment and gear including radar systems, torpedoes, naval mines, bateau bridges for land forces and vessel and system maintenance can also generate boatloads of revenue for Chinese firms.

More than a dozen of other Chinese industrial and defense firms and conglomerates were also in the delegation led by officials from the Chinese State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense. Representatives also called on the Malaysian Defense Ministry and a shipyard after the show.

Thailand has ordered an additional 10 Chinese-made Main Battle Tank 3000 (VT-4), which will replace older US-made vehicles.

Thailand has ordered a considerable amount of Chinese-made VT-4 Main Battle Tanks, which will replace older US-made vehicles. Photo: Xinhua

China North Industries Corp (NORINCO) also hoped that the Royal Thai Army’s big order for its VT-4 main battle tanks would entice more prospective buyers like Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. These countries are beefing up defense spending and the tanks’ upgraded artillery, engines, hydraulic transmission systems and thermal imaging perform better in tropical environments.

The Thai military now boosts a fleet of 28 VT-4s in service, delivered in October 2017. The deal, rumored to be valued at about US$150 million, included an option on a further 153 vehicles, according to the Bangkok Post and VOA.

Aside from tanks, NORINCO’s other hit products on show included the Sky Dragon 50 surface-to-air missile system, multiple launch rocket system AR3 and TL-7B anti-ship missiles.

China Aerospace Long-March International Co, Ltd showcased its LY-80 air defense missile system, WS-3A precision guided multiple launch rocket system and the Caihong series of attack and reconnaissance drones, aiming to wrestle a slice of the market from western products.

Aviation Industry Corporation of China’s KJ-200 airborne early warning and control aircraft also grabbed much of the limelight. Xinhua noted that negotiations were continuing with several prospective buyers after the end of the show.

Global Times also reported that China could be among the very few countries that sell this type of aircraft “with no political conditions attached,” stressing that the advanced airborne radar picket system is for defense purposes.

In February 2017, a US Navy Lockheed P-3 Orion and a KJ-200 inadvertently came close to each other over the South China Sea. The aircraft were within a little more than 300 meters of each other, Reuters and CNN reported.

Read more: Southeast Asian nations on a spree buying Chinese weapons

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