Thursday, June 24, 2021

Russia Frustrated by Chinese Theft of Military Technologies

China is known for stealing military secrets from the U.S. Now, Russia has also admitted that it is concerned with Beijing copying several of their weapons and military technologies.

Stealing from Russia

“Unauthorized copying of our equipment abroad is a huge problem. There have been 500 such cases over the past 17 years… China alone has copied aircraft engines, Sukhoi planes, deck jets, air defense systems, portable air defense missiles, and analogs of the Pantsir medium-range surface-to-air systems,” Yevgeny Livadny, chief of intellectual property projects at the state-backed defense conglomerate Rostec, said in a statement (Nikkei Asian Review).

In the mid-2000s, a similar situation existed where Russia was concerned with Chinese theft of its military tech. As a consequence, China’s share of Russian arms exports fell from 60 percent in 2005 to just 8.7 percent in 2012. After 2014, Russia actively developed its military trade with China and has been very keen to keep the Asian nation as its customer even though it realizes that Beijing will reverse-engineer its military technologies. Today, China is one of the biggest purchasers of Russian weaponry. Between 2014 and 2018, 70 percent of China’s arms imports were sourced from Russia.  

China has been copying Russian military technology. (Image: maxpixel / CC0 1.0)
China has been copying Russian military technology. (Image: maxpixel / CC0 1.0)

Despite stealing military tech from Russia, China has been unable to match the quality of Russian military hardware. Beijing had acquired a Russian-made Su-33 aircraft from Ukraine and reverse-engineered it to create its J-15 jet. But the domestically produced craft has been plagued with several problems. “Love for the fourth-generation J-15 jet is seldom shown in Chinese circles…  Chinese media has disparaged the plane in numerous ways, including referring to it as a “flopping fish” for its inability to operate effectively from the Chinese carriers, which launch fixed-wing aircraft under their own power from an inclined ramp on the bow of the ship,” according to Sputnik News.

China’s growing economic power means that the country is almost certain to become a major military tech innovator and exporter at some point in the future. In fact, the Chinese military-industrial complex has already surpassed that of Russia in several areas. For Moscow, this presents a huge challenge since it would inevitably lose the Chinese market in such a situation.

China's J-15 jet is based on Russia's Su 33. (Image: YouTube/Screenshot)
China’s J-15 jet is based on Russia’s Su-33. (Image: YouTube/Screenshot)

Military partnership

Russian President Vladimir Putin has explicitly stated that his country won’t be seeking a military alliance with China since Moscow believes that such defense pacts will be counter-productive. Instead, Russia is only looking at a strategic military partnership with the Asian nation. In fact, both nations are currently developing a missile launch detection system.  Though the level of Russia’s involvement is not known, reports suggest that it is a big enough contribution to be of political significance to both parties.

“The China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for a new era has become a major-country relationship featuring the highest degree of mutual trust, the highest level of coordination and the highest strategic value… [The partnership] does not target any third party and will not be affected by any third party,” Geng Shuang, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said in a statement (Newsweek).

The military partnership is expected to cross into areas like hypersonic missiles, nuclear submarines, missile defense systems, and so on. As the relationship between China and the U.S. worsens, Russia will end up being a major beneficiary since it will be able to have a stronger say in military cooperation between the two countries.

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Max Lu
Max Lu is an author who specializes in Asian geopolitics.

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