China has cemented its place as Pakistan’s largest supplier of major arms by some distance, including fighter aircraft, warships, submarines and missiles between 2017 and 2021, data compiled by an independent institute focusing on arms transfers and conflict has said.
Between 2017 and 2021, Beijing met 72% of Islamabad’s demand for major arms, the data showed. Conversely, 47% of all the major arms exported by China went to Pakistan during the period, new data from Sweden’s Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) said.
Pakistan imported 67% of its arms from China in 2012-16, up from 39% in 2007-11.
It also emerged from Sipri’s analysis that though several of the deals are labelled “co-production” or “joint programme”, implying significant Pakistani R&D input, in reality, the research and development is mainly or all Chinese, even for specific Pakistani requirements.
Top arms deals between the two countries include the continued supply of the JF-17 combat aircraft with the delivery of the “much improved” Block-3 version to start this year, the data compiled under Sipri’s “Trends in International Arms Transfers, 2021”, said.
“Delivery of the first batch of J-10 combat aircraft started earlier this year, which was the first export of this aircraft by China. It is more advanced than the JF-17,” Siemon Wezeman, a senior researcher with Sipri’s Arms Transfers Programme, said.
China isn’t supplying only combat aircraft, explained Wezeman. “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 one reason 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.”
The trend in the last two decades was Pakistan’s increasing reliance on China for major weapons — it is now fully established. “…our assessment that this picture is not going to change, mainly since the US has ‘given up’ on Pakistan and turned more to India as it primary partner in region, aside from the end of US operations in Afghanistan in 2021 which ended the need to keep Pakistan as some kind of ally,” Wezeman said.
After China, Pakistan buys most of its major arms from Sweden (6.4%) and Russia (5.6%) between 2017-21 while for Beijing, after Islamabad, the next buyers of its arms are Bangladesh (16%) and Thailand (5%).
A Chinese expert said it is Pakistan’s right to buy weapons from any country.
“As a sovereign country, Pakistan can buy from any other country including China or the US. Similarly, India can buy weapons from anyone, say, Russia, or the US, or France,” Long Xingchun, head of the Chengdu Institute of World Affairs said.
Pakistan’s dependence on Chinese military hardware is well known and has grown exponentially over the years, said former director general of military operations Lieutenant General Vinod Bhatia (retd).
“Such is Pakistan’s dependence on Chinese weapons and systems that it has become a client state of China. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) leverages this influence and exercises indirect control over the Pakistan army, which controls the country,” said Bhatia.