More Russian weapons go to China

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In a timely seasonal greeting, on the eve of the Chinese Lunar New Year, China's defense ministry and Russia's arms export monopoly Rosoboronexport have clinched a US$1 billion deal regarding the shipment to the Chinese navy of 24 Su-30MKK multi-role naval fighters from the KnAAPO plant in Komsomolsk-on-Amur, Russia's defense ministry officials told Interfax news agency on January 27.

However, the Russian Kommersant daily argues that last week China purchased 28 Su-30MKKs, and was mulling procurement of 22 naval fighters in the future. Despite these discrepancies in the media coverage, the new deal is a clear step in Beijing's drive to increase its naval capabilities. The fighters, with a maximum altitude of 17 kilometers and a range of some 2,700 kilometers, are armed with supersonic X-31A missiles designed to strike sea-based targets.

Furthermore, Russia lost little time to indicate that it had something else to sell. On January 27, AVPK Sukhoi announced that it had resumed tests of the Su-47 experimental swept-forward fixed-wing aircraft. The Su-47 (earlier known as the Su-37) is powered by two D-30F6 engines and has a maximum speed of 2,200 kilometers per hour, a maximum altitude of 18 kilometers and a range of some 3,300 kilometers.

However, Russian officials opted to counterbalance the Chinese deal by making overtures to India. On January 28, the head of AVPK Sukhoi, Mikhail Pogosian, held a press conference in Moscow for Russian and Indian journalists at which he announced that India is due to start manufacturing Su-30MKIs under license at plants in India as soon as 2004.

Nonetheless, China tops the list of Russia's arms importers and is heavily reliant on assistance from Russia, according to a Pentagon report to Congress released last July.

Over the past decade, Russia has steadily increased its arms sales to China. The Chinese air force received its first Russian-made Su-27 in 1992, under a deal to sell 20 Su-27SK fighters and six Su-27UBKs. China was later supplied with another 50 Su-27s as well as 57 Su-30MKKs. In 2003, China is expected to receive 19 Su-30MKKs, according to earlier contracts. On the other hand, in 1996, Russia and China inked a $2.5 billion deal to manufacture 200 Su-27SKs under license at a plant in Shenyang.

In addition, last year agreements were signed for the shipment to the Chinese navy of two ship-based S-300F Reef anti-aircraft missile systems. These systems are designed to provide major naval task forces with air defense.

In 1999-2000, Russia sold two Project 956E Sovremenny (Modern) class destroyers to China in a $603 million deal. In January 2002, the two countries clinched yet another $1.4 billion contract to build another two Project 956EM destroyers. The destroyers are equipped with Sunburn anti-ship cruise missiles. China has also been supplied with two Project 877EKM diesel-electric submarines and two Project 636 vessels (an upgrade of the 877EKM). In May 2002, a $1.5-billion contract was signed to build another eight Project 636 vessels. It has been reported that China plans to procure Russian Akula nuclear submarines to supplement its ongoing purchase of eight Kilo-class conventional submarines, as well as two Slava-class cruisers armed with 16 P-500 anti-ship missiles with a range of more than 500 kilometers.

Russia has sold eight regiments of the S-300PMU1 long-range anti-aircraft missile system and 27 short-range Tor-M1 systems for China's air defense. In 2001, Russia and China reportedly signed a $400 million contract to supply another four regiments of the more modern S-300PMU-2. China has also been reported to be considering the purchase of MiG-31M interceptors, Tu-22MZ bombers with Granit cruise missiles, Project 949 nuclear missile subs with 24 Granit cruise missiles, and Project 1144 nuclear cruisers with 20 Granit systems.

However, some Russian politicians have questioned the strategic wisdom of the Kremlin's policy to sell arms to China, a neighboring state that obviously becomes stronger with each purchase. On January 22, at a meeting of the Russian State Council, Viktor Ishayev, governor of the Khabarovsk region, vocally complained that Chinese maps allegedly painted vast areas of the Russian Far East "in Chinese colors". Ishayev speculated that China was considering the annexation of at least 1.5 million hectares of Russian territory. However, Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed Ishayev's concerns and stated that borders issues between the two nations were close to final resolution.

Moscow's and Beijing's respective positions have recently converged on a variety of important international issues. They have said that they currently see no cause for war against Iraq. And as Pyongyang's longtime allies, they support a nuclear-free Korean peninsula and a cautious approach towards dealing with North Korea.

When Putin traveled to China on December 1-3, 2002, in Beijing he warned against US unilateralism. And in a joint declaration signed on December 2, Putin and Chinese President Jiang Zemin called for diplomatic solutions to the Iraq issue and North Korea's nuclear weapons program. The declaration called for a "multipolar world" - a phrase used by both governments to oppose perceived US global dominance.

The "multipolar world" mantra still remains fixed in the Kremlin's vocabulary. On January 27, Putin sent New Year greetings to Jiang and Communist Party chief Hu Jintao. "[Our] bilateral strategic partnership has become a strong factor in forming a multipolar and just world," the Kremlin's press service quoted Putin's letter as saying. Russia and China have also opposed the planned US missile shield.

However, Washington has ignored their warnings that this could trigger a new arms race. Last year, President George W Bush dismissed the 1972 Anti-ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty with Russia as a "Cold War relic", withdrew from the treaty and announced plans to build a shield against ballistic missile attack - National Missile Defense (NMD). 

Until recently, Russia and China banded together to lead the fight to preserve the ABM treaty. In a joint statement signed on July 16, 2001, Putin and Jiang described the ABM Treaty as the "cornerstone of strategic stability". However, the Kremlin has not only moderated opposition to Bush's missile defense program, in recent days it has indicated a willingness to assist Washington in building the shield. Last week, Putin stated that he did not "rule out possible cooperation with the US in building a missile defense [system]".

In an interview published on January 28, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Ivanov stated that the US NMD plans should not hinder bilateral cooperation in missile defense. Hence, Russia is probably rethinking its approach to relations with China, as a joint opposition to US missile-defense plans used to be one of the key elements of the so-called "strategic partnership" between Moscow and Beijing.

Source: Asia Times (29th January, 2003)

Steve ~ Touchdown-News

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