Russia quietly resumes sales of advanced arms technology to China, and everyone loses their mind. But should the world really be panicking over Russia and China’s arms deals? Yes, it appears so. The fact that Beijing and Moscow continue partnering in the sphere of arms sales signals that the two nations are boosting their us-against-the world position.
We’re talking about Russia’s sale of advanced arms to China, something Moscow hasn’t done in more than a decade. It’s also no less concerning that China is the world’s second-largest military spender. Just last year, Beijing spent a whopping $215 billion to acquire state-of-the-art weapons.
Russia lifts 2004 ban on advanced arms sales to China
Chinese and Russian officials have just jointly confirmed that Russia will send 24 jets to China in the next three years. The officials announced the $2 billion deal during the Zhuhai Air Show. The first batch of four revolutionary Su-35 fighters, which have had Western defense officials buzzing for years, will join Beijing’s military arsenal later this year. This deal means that Moscow has just lifted the informal ban on selling advanced weaponry to Beijing, which it put in place in 2004.
Apart from the deliveries, Chinese pilots are also training on the Su-35 fighters in Russia. After the Chinese master their skills at navigating the almighty fighters, they’ll fly them back to China.
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Moscow and Beijing couldn’t be happier about their weaponry deals. Here’s why: China was the third-largest arms importer between 2011 and last year. Russia, meanwhile, was the second-largest exporter of weapons in the same period.
Now do the math.
China lagging behind Russia in weapons technology
In 2014, Russia gave its first signal that it’s lifting the ban on selling advanced arms to China when it agreed to sell S-400 surface-to-air missiles. The advanced S-400s are expected to be in Beijing’s possession by 2018. Earlier this week, Beijing unveiled its own advanced J-20 stealth fighters. The J-20s will not be used by the Chinese army in the next few years, but the fact remains that the Chinese have their own weapons.
So why is China still purchasing advanced weapons from Russia? Chinese military weaponry is still far from perfect, which is why the country needs more time and effort to come up with the advanced technologies like those Russia offers. In fact, why not learn from its closest and most promising geopolitical ally while it has the chance to? Russia’s confrontation with the West only pushes Moscow closer to Beijing.
And China embraces Russia with a big, multi-billion hug. Even though China probably has the world’s best tech minds, its weapons still don’t match Russia’s superior level of weapons. That’s the modern-era reality.
Big difference between Russia’s Su-35 and China’s J-20
But is the difference between Russia’s Su-35 fighters and China’s newly-created J-20 fighters that big? Well, it’s pretty big.
Although the J-20 externally looks like an advanced fifth-generation fighter, beauty is only skin-deep. Internally, the J-20 lacks in terms of engine power and systems avionics technology. Russia’s Su-35 fighters, meanwhile, are equipped with revolutionary Saturn AL-41F1S afterburning turbofans. And Beijing to this day hasn’t come up with its own technology that would remotely match Russia’s. Apart from that, the Su-35 fighters also boast the unmatched Tikhomirov NIIP Irbis-E phased array radar and the one-of-a-kind electronic warfare suite.
China is no stranger to featuring Russia’s powerful engines in its own fighters. In fact, Beijing powered the J-20s with the Russian-built Saturn AL-31F engines that were featured in the Su-27.
It’s fair to say that it’s only a matter of time before China comes up with even more powerful engines than those found in Russia’s jets, especially given the investments and commitment Beijing is making to its aerospace defense industry. But for now, China can enjoy Russia’s powerful Su-35 fighters while trying to catch up with the Russians in the process.
Beijing and Moscow an unspoken but powerful alliance
China and Russia are becoming closer not only thanks to their lucrative arms deals but also because both Beijing and Moscow realize that they need one another in order to counter their geopolitical foes: the U.S. and the West as a whole.
In early October, Beijing officially backed Russia in its heated confrontation against the U.S. on Syria. Beijing also publicly backed Moscow’s position on both Syria and Afghanistan. Shortly afterwards, Beijing admitted that U.S. missile defense in Europe is a direct threat to Russia. Beijing has never been so pro-Russian on so many geopolitical issues at the same time. That suggests only one thing: Beijing finally made up its mind about its main ally.
The news came just a few weeks after Putin made headlines at the G-20 summit at China’s Hanzhou in September. The Russian president publicly supported China’s rejection of the Hague Arbitration Court’s Ruling on the South China Sea. That same month, Beijing and Moscow held eight-day-long joint naval drills in the South China Sea involving both defense and offense exercises.
China and Russia tackling U.S. global dominance
And then there are also the anti-missile drills held by China and Russia over the U.S. THAAD decision. After North Korea’s latest major nuclear test, South Korea finally agreed to deploy the THAAD anti-missile system, which prompted a furious response from China. China views the deployment of THAADs in Asia as a threat to the strategic balance in the region.
China’s state-run People’s Daily warned that the U.S. would have to pay “a heavy price” for the deployment of THAADs in Asia. After the U.S. announced it would deploy THAADs in South Korea, Russia also warned America. This time, the Russian Foreign Ministry warned it could result in “irreparable consequences.”
Political experts have long suspected that Beijing and Russia are cooperating to bring down U.S. global dominance, and such cooperation is in their best interests. China has long accused the U.S. of attempting to strengthen its Asian neighbors and thus prevent Beijing from rising. Russia, meanwhile, believes the U.S. and its European allies are constantly moving their weapons closer to Russian borders.