Russian-Chinese military relations at a low point

MOSCOW. (Nikita Petrov for RIA Novosti) - Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's recent visit to China has encouraged economic, cultural and other ties. The parties also signed a whole package of documents, including a $1.5 billion deal on Russia's contribution to China's nuclear power generation.

The only issue the journalists on Medvedev's team overlooked was military technical cooperation - an area of relations that has been gathering moss for quite a while.

The bilateral commission on military technical cooperation has not met for two years, and Russia's defense minister has repeatedly postponed his visit to Beijing. Military experts say that Russian companies are not working on a single major contract for China, supplying only spare parts and components, including for the assembly of Mi-8 Hip and Mi-17 Hip H transport helicopters.

Not long ago, Russian arms and equipment supplies to China made up 40% of Russia's military exports, and earned the country between $1.8 billion and $2.5 billion a year. According to independent sources, Russian military deliveries to China over the past 15 years, mostly of aircraft, naval and air defense equipment, exceeded $25 billion.

The Chinese Air Force currently has over 280 Russian Sukhoi Su-27 and Su-30 Flanker fighters.

Several years ago, Beijing bought a license to assemble 200 Su-27SK fighters at the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation. But China suspended the contract after producing just 105 aircraft. Analysts say the Chinese have learned to build the planes without Russian assistance, and therefore no longer need the Russian-made components, even though China's JF-17 Thunder fighters need the RD-93 engines produced at the Moscow-based Chernyshev machine-building plant.

The aircraft were delivered to China together with air-to-surface (X-35), anti-ship (X-31A) and anti-radar (X-31P) missiles.

China also bought a large batch of Mi-8, Mi-17 and Mi-171 helicopters and engines for them. Russia has built four Sovremenny class destroyers for the Chinese Navy and armed them with supersonic Moskit anti-ship missiles (SS-N-22 Sunburn).

China ordered the construction of twelve diesel-electric submarines (two Project 877EKM and 10 Project 636 and Project 636M Amur submarines), armed with Club-S anti-ship cruise missiles, in St. Petersburg.

Beijing also bought as many as 60 air defense systems (28 S-300PMU-1 and S-300PMU-2 systems and approximately 30 Tor-M1 air defense systems made at the Almaz-Antei concern).

There are several reasons for the recent problems in Russian-Chinese military technical cooperation. One was Russia's failure to deliver on a $1.5 billion order for 34 Il-76MD Candid transport and landing aircraft and four Il-78 Midas flying tankers.

The contract had been initially placed with the TAPO plant in Tashkent, which proved to be in no condition to fulfill it. Large numbers of staff had deserted the company while it was idle, and its equipment had either been plundered or become obsolete. The contract was then moved to Ulyanovsk, which was not ready to build so many planes at such short notice either.

Most importantly, China no longer wants to buy what Russia has to offer, preferring to import weapons of its choice together with licenses and technology for their production, which Moscow is not willing to provide. China has not signed a copyright agreement with Russia and is producing the J-11B aircraft, effectively a carbon copy of the Su-27SK Flanker. Beijing even exports the plane to Pakistan without getting a permit from Sukhoi, which holds the patent for the Su planes, or paying royalties to it.

China is interested in Russian armor and artillery, including the Nona-SVK and Vena self-propelled gun, the 152-mm Msta-S howitzer, the T-90S main battle tank, the Smerch multiple-launch rocket system, the BTR-80 and BTR-90 armored personnel carriers. It has also expressed an interest in multirole helicopters, such as the Mi-28N Havoc and Ka-50 Black Shark.

But Moscow is in no in hurry to sign the agreement, for several reasons. Although China is friendly now, nobody knows how it will behave tomorrow, when new leaders replace the Old Guard who were brought up to respect the Soviet Union and Russia. The United States is openly worried over China's growing military might. Is Russia supplying weapons to an army that may turn against it tomorrow?

That is pure speculation, of course, but theories have become reality more than once before in history.

Such caution is not pleasant for China, which has suggested that Russia think about the future of bilateral military technical cooperation. Bilateral military ties would have been rolled back to zero very quickly, if not for a European ban on the supply of weapons and combat control systems to China.

But moratoriums are lifted, sooner or later. Economic expediency, financial gain, and rivalry with other arms producers and suppliers may eventually force Europe to resume cooperation with China, leaving Russia empty-handed.

Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev and Chinese leader Hu Jintao probably discussed military technical cooperation in Beijing, and we may soon learn what they have decided. Visits to China by Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov and Chief of the General Staff Yury Baluyevsky are still on the ministry's agenda this year.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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