Chinese Arms Transfers: Purposes, Patterns, and Prospects in the New World Order

By R. Bates Gill | Go to book overview
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determined that China sent heavy armor -- 24 T-59 MBTs -- to the Khmer Rouge resistance forces. 46 These tanks, as well as other weapons, flowed to the Khmer Rouge despite assurances made by Beijing in September 1990 that it would halt its supply of weapons to Cambodian resistance factions. It is possible that the Chinese continue to provide weapons already "in the pipeline" and bound for Cambodia or which were previously stockpiled in Thailand. In the 1990s, given its past aid to the resistance forces in Cambodia and because of its growing influence in the region, China will continue to be a likely supplier of weapons to Cambodia.

In the cases of Laos, Indonesia, and Myanmar, it is especially interesting to consider PRC arms transfers because China's past relations with these countries were often considerably less than cordial. Yet, in 1990, for example, China shipped major conventional weapons to Laos for the first time -- though it was a relatively small transfer of two Y-12 transport aircraft. Sino-Indonesian relations were consistently antagonistic throughout much of the postwar period, particularly following the fall of Sukarno in 1965: PRC-Indonesian diplomatic ties remained severed for 25 years until the summer of 1990. But the reestablishment of official relations was quickly followed a month later by preliminary talks concerning the acquisition of PRC naval vessels by Indonesia. 47

The PRC-Myanmar relationship was also troubled as Beijing for many years actively supported the now-defunct Burmese Communist Party in their efforts to overthrow the government in Yangon. However, following the visit of a high-ranking Myanmar military delegation to Beijing, the PRC in 1990 began delivering weapons to Yangon as part of a US$1 billion arms deal. The package included ground-based radars, antiaircraft guns, small arms, and ammunition, in addition to 24 F-6 and F-7 jet aircraft, 100 tanks, 144 air-to-air missiles, 4 patrol boats, and the arrival of PRC advisers and trainers, the first foreign military staff based in Myanmar in several decades. 48 These developments could signal the end of Myanmar's long-held official position of neutrality and mark the beginning of a decidedly pro-PRC tilt in Myanmar foreign policy, a shift that certainly will not be kindly considered in Myanmar's neighbor to the west, India. 49 Some observers of the military situation in Myanmar point out that Chinese arms may serve to strengthen the country's ruling junta, the State Law and Order Restoration Council, including their military presence along the India-Myanmar border. With Myanmar to the east of India, it makes Yangon a natural ally for the PRC, and arms transfers may be a useful method by which Beijing can solidify its ties to Myanmar. 50

Sukhumbhand Paribatra, From Enmity to Alignment: Thailand's Evolving Relations with China ( Bangkok: Institute for Security and International Studies, 1987), 6-16.


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