China’s military aid is probably less than you think – The Diplomat

The central role of Western military aid to Ukraine in its fight against Russia has highlighted military aid as an essential part of broader US security cooperation efforts. Amid the strategic competition with China, one would assume that Beijing would have an extensive military aid program as part of its own approach to winning friends and influence through military diplomacy, its somewhat version. somewhat analogous to security cooperation. This may not be a safe assumption.

A new RAND report explores security cooperation between the United States, China and Russia in the context of strategic competition and finds that “the United States and its allies enjoy a significant competitive advantage”. As part of this new report, we have researched and compiled the first comprehensive assessment of Chinese military assistance.

China’s total military aid of $560 million between 2013 and 2018 pales in comparison to the US total of more than $35 billion over the same period, US military aid to the top five recipients in the region alone. Indo-Pacific Command totaling over $1 billion. Beijing’s total is also perhaps less than half of Russia’s total over the same period. France and Germany each contributed nearly $2 billion in 2017 alone. Simply put, China is not a world leader in military aid.

The report defines military aid as military equipment donated to another country as a gift, not a sale or even a free loan, and our data includes not only actual donations but also pledges. Although the period covered by this report is from 2013 to 2018, we have continued to monitor Chinese military aid deliveries and commitments since then and have not seen any drastic change from this pattern.

The main recipients of Chinese foreign military aid in the 2013-2018 period were Cambodia, with $100 million pledged in 2016 ahead of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s election (and more in 2018), and the Union Africa, with 100 million dollars promised in 2016. 2015 by Xi Jinping during his major speech at the United Nations. These reflect two different apparent motivations for Beijing. For Cambodia, Beijing has probably sought to maintain its influence with the Cambodian government. For the African Union, Beijing was probably looking to build its soft power in Africa. Another apparent motivation, though much less common, could be to improve China’s security by improving stability along its borders. This motivation could explain the $73 million China pledged to Afghanistan in 2016 to counter the Taliban.

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Chart by RAND Corporation.

Equally interesting, but perhaps unsurprising, are the countries missing from the list of recipients of Chinese military largesse. We found no evidence that Beijing provided its only ally, North Korea, with any military aid between 2013 and 2018, a time when bilateral relations were generally poor. Nor have we identified military aid to major Chinese arms buyers from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Algeria and others – why give when you can sell?

Little is known about Russia’s recent request for military aid from China, which was apparently turned down. Even if China was sympathetic to the idea of ​​helping Russia, it seems unlikely that it actually provided free ‘help’ – Moscow has a lot of things like energy resources and military hardware that Beijing could have asked for back, even if it wasn’t. I don’t want to ask Russia for money.

There are several important caveats to these numbers. First, the Chinese government has never released its own total, and very rarely confirms, let alone publicly provides a value, of its military aid – commitments to Cambodia and Afghanistan, for example, have been announced by the governments beneficiaries. This means that our estimate may underestimate the Chinese totals, although it is hard to imagine that Beijing and the recipients are hiding enough donations to alter our estimated total by an order of magnitude.

Second, our estimate includes both pledges and actual donations — and given Beijing’s track record of other aid pledges, it’s entirely possible that not all of those pledges will materialize.

Finally, this is only the first attempt at a comprehensive tally of Chinese military aid, and there is room to expand and update this research.

The Philippines is a good example of media hype masking the reality of China’s limited security cooperation. Just as Beijing failed to deliver on its 2016 economic pledge of $24 billion to Manila during Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s first flirtation with China, a 2017 Chinese offer of a $500 million loan to buy Chinese military equipment remained unused. Beijing donated $21 million over the period 2013-2018, including $7 million worth of guns and ammunition in 2017 for counter-terrorism and $14 million worth of patrol boats in 2018. Since the end of our research , Beijing continued to send military aid, including nearly 12 million dollars. of “lifesaving and relief supplies” in January 2022. Yet this again pales in comparison to the $496 million in US military aid to the Philippines over 2013-2018 (and $770 million over 2015-2020).

We have identified several long-standing and well-known issues that have yet to be resolved. Perhaps more importantly, US commitments inherited from the War on Terror era and even before could be reconsidered as the Biden administration continues to focus on strategic competition with China and Russia, and Washington could also develop targeted programs for priority countries. The United States could also do better in coordinating with its allies and partners – Japan, for example, has donated equipment to the Philippines and Indonesia, among others in Southeast Asia. Finally, such aid should not always focus on combat capabilities, as was the case for Ukraine. While most Asian countries steer clear of Sino-US strategic competition, support for peacetime priorities such as maritime domain awareness is also important and may be even more welcomed by these countries. uppercase letters.

While the US could do better, the report shows that it has significantly overtaken China in global military aid, which should provide significant advantages in intensifying Sino-US strategic competition.