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China backs ‘iron brother’ Pakistan with primary weapons and complex exercises

The international community may be urging Pakistan to act on terror organisations operating from its soil but relations with ‘iron brother’ China have gone from strength to strength over the past decade, with Beijing not only emerging as its main weapons supplier but also the preferred training partner for complex military exercises, including the use of modern technology for air battle.

China has far surpassed the US as the biggest weapons supplier to Pakistan and the partnership is expected to increase in coming years-last year Beijing officially declared its largest defence export deal worth over $4 billion to supply eight new submarines to Pakistan that will augment its fleet of French origin boats.

Last week, China once again called Pakistan its ‘iron brother’ to symbolise the close relationship the two nations share. The terminology, which has been in use for a few years, is backed by a rock solid military relationship that comes from China far surpassing traditional arms supplier, the US, when it comes to modern systems for the Pakistan military.



Statistics available from international arms sales tracker SIPRI show that Pakistan, followed by Bangladesh and Myanmar, are the biggest purchasers of Chinese weapons and indicate that the weapons being transferred are growing increasingly sophisticated — from tanks and trainer aircraft in the past to modern fighter jets and even unmanned combat aerial vehicles.

On the training front, China has been supporting several major war games to hone Pakistan’s combat abilities with the newly-supplied weapons. The latest exercise was the Shaheen VII — an air force exercise for which China sent not only its fighter jets but early warning aircraft as well.

Analysts say the complexity of such exercises has deepened over the past decade as the Pakistani military is increasingly inducting Chinese platforms in the sea, air and on land. The military interoperability of the two nations —backed by the common systems being used — has been a matter of growing concern.

SIPRI data shows that in the past 10 years (2008-18), China has supplied weapons worth over $6.4 billion to Pakistan, with the US coming a distant second at $2.5 billion. Italy stands at third place with a miniscule $471 million.

China, which has been pitching itself as a major exporter of arms, has also found a good partner in Pakistan as an easy first customer for several of its platforms for sale. In the past decade, Pakistan has been China’s biggest export destination for arms, followed by Bangladesh that bought $1.9 billion worth of equipment. Another of India’s neighbour, Myanmar, is at number three in China’s export list at $1.2 billion.

Besides legacy sales, China’s partnership on future platforms is also on the rise, with reports from late last year in Beijing suggesting that Pakistan will import 48 armed ‘Wing Loong II’ drones that have been developed by the Chengdu Aircraft Corporation.

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