According to data produced by an independent agency specialising on arms transfers and conflict, China has secured its position as Pakistan’s leading supplier of heavy arms, including fighter aircraft, warships, submarines, and missiles, between 2017 and 2021.
According to data released in March by Sweden’s Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Beijing met 72 percent of Islamabad’s demand for large weaponry between 2017 and 2021. According to SIPRI, China exported 47 percent of all significant weaponry to Pakistan during that time period.
According to SIPRI’s analysis, while several of the deals are labelled “co-production” or “joint project,” implying major Pakistani research and development (R&D), in reality, the R&D is mostly or entirely Chinese, even for specific Pakistani requirements.
According to SIPRI’s study Trends in International Arms Transfers, 2021, top arms deals between the two nations include the continuous supply (as licenced production in Pakistan) of the JF-17 combat aircraft, with deliveries of the “significantly enhanced” Block-3 version set to begin this year.
“The first batch of J-10 combat aircraft was delivered earlier this year, marking China’s first export of this aircraft. “It’s more advanced than the JF-17,” said Siemon Wezeman, a senior researcher for SIPRI’s arms transfers programme.
According to Wezeman, China isn’t just delivering combat planes.
“With the combat aircraft come various types of guided bombs and air-to-ground missiles, as well as advanced long-range air-to-air missiles; the latter being one of the reasons for India’s acquisition of the Rafale from France, which comes with the Meteor long-range air-to-air missile – (triggering) a sort of air-to-air arms race,” Wezeman said.
The Type-90-2M tank, also known in Pakistan as Al-Khalid and Al-Khalid-I, is also supplied by China (again as licenced production in Pakistan).
“At the same time, Pakistan imports straight from China the more modern VT-4 tank,” Wezeman explained.
Both China and Pakistan are investing heavily in warships as Beijing seeks to challenge India’s influence in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea by arming Pakistan’s navy.
“The supply of four Type-054A/P frigates, the first of which will be delivered in 2021 and the remaining three in 2022,” Wezeman explained. The Chinese and Pakistani fleets’ cooperation is a significant component of their defence ties.
Four Type-041 submarines will be built under licence in Pakistan as part of an ongoing agreement to supply eight submarines between 2022 and 2028.
“These are large modern conventional submarines, and there have been reports/rumors that Pakistan may equip them with nuclear weapons carriers.” Many more artillery, drone, and air-defense systems programmes have been continuing or launched in recent years, according to the SIPRI investigation.
Pakistan has a wish list for China to consider, including 5th generation combat aircraft, long-range air-defense missile systems, and massive warships such as the “Type-054s or something else from the rather vast Chinese inventory of warships.”
Pakistan’s increasing reliance on China for key weapons has been established for the past two decades.
“Aside from the end of US operations in Afghanistan in 2021, which eliminated the need to keep Pakistan as some kind of ally,” Wezeman said, “our assessment that this picture is not going to change, mainly because the US has ‘given up’ on Pakistan and turned more to India as its primary partner in the region.”
Pakistan gets the majority of its main armaments from Sweden and Russia after China, while Bangladesh and Thailand are the next leading buyers of Beijing’s arms after Islamabad. According to a Chinese expert, Pakistan has the right to buy weapons from any country.
“As a sovereign country, Pakistan has the right to buy from any country, including China and the United States.” Similarly, India can purchase weapons from anyone, including Russia, the United States, and France, according to Long Xingchun, director of the Chengdu Institute of World Affairs.
Long went on to say that India should not be concerned because it is a strong and confident country. “I don’t believe that China’s sale of arms to Pakistan poses a threat to India.”
“Does China object when India buys Russian weapons?” Neither should India, according to Long.
Senior Colonel Wu Qian, a spokesperson for China’s defence ministry, said on March 31 that military-to-military interactions, which serve as the bedrock of the China-Pakistan relationship, have historically played a key role in the development of bilateral relations. It’s easy to see why.