Top U.S. military leaders are warning legislators that China’s ability to move rapidly on military sales is harming the U.S. in two important locations and might have even more serious effects in the years ahead.
The frank assessments from the commanders of the United States Central Command, which manages American forces in South Asia and the Middle East, and the United States Africa Command (Africom) come as a growing number of defence officials express concern over China’s rapid military modernisation, which has already made China a “pacing challenge” for the Pentagon.
It’s a race to integrate before China can break in, General Michael Kurilla of Central Command told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday that Chinese military sales to the region had increased by 80% in the last decade.
U.S. security partners have actual security needs, and the U.S. is losing its ability to offer equipment, he added, noting lengthy waits for U.S. military sales approval and delivery of equipment.
What China does is come in and open up their entire inventory, give them express delivery, no end-user agreement, and financing, Kurilla explained, adding that the Chinese are considerably fast.
General Michael Langley of Africa Command shared an identical statement concerning the African continent. Even with the huge American security cooperation endeavour, the arms sales process is not accelerated, according to Langley.
Specifically in West Africa, across the Sahel, in Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Benin, and Togo, they urgently need equipment and weaponry, he told M.P.s. Hence, they make choices, and they make the wrong ones by accepting lethal aid from the PRC or Russia, he said.
Such concerns regarding China’s military exports are not new and have persisted despite the United States’ general dominance in the arms export market.
According to data from SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute), between 2018 and 2022, the United States exported 40 per cent of all weaponry worldwide. China ranked fourth with slightly over 5% of total sales.
In the fiscal year 2022, the U.S. government’s arms sales increased by about 50 per cent to $51.9 billion, according to figures disclosed by the State Department earlier this year. This increase was partially attributed to the war in Ukraine. In addition, commercial arms sales grew, reaching $153.7 billion.
Yet, U.S. defence and intelligence officials have warned for years about the implications of arms agreements between China and African nations in particular. According to a report from February 2020, China was already boosting its sales to African nations with military and technological training.
SIPRI statistics analysed in a report released this month revealed that China is gaining a significant advantage in sub-Saharan Africa, where Beijing sold more than $2 billion in weaponry between 2010 and 2021, second only to Russia.
According to the research, between 2017 and 2020, Chinese arms exports to sub-Saharan Africa exceeded U.S. exports by a ratio of roughly 3-to-1.
The commanders of CENTCOM and AFRICOM told Congress on Thursday that the United States will find it increasingly difficult to engage with countries that would otherwise choose to be allied with the United States.
Kurilla stated that if Chinese equipment is there, it cannot be integrated with American equipment.
Whether it’s a radar or a genuine air defence system, based on what we know about Chinese equipment, we cannot allow it to access our network, he said, describing the Chinese outreach in the Middle East as aggressive.
Things are not so bad
Despite an overall increase in Chinese arms exports over the past two decades, sales have declined by 23% over the past five years.
Expectations regarding Chinese arms exports based on the fast improving quality and technological improvement of the products on sale have not yet been realised.
China has failed to become a major supplier in at least one region where it would be expected to have great opportunities to do so, namely the Middle East. There have been no significant sales of submarines or combat aircraft to the Middle East. Only Chinese exports have decreased to Egypt.
Pakistan remains China’s top customer for military goods.