PRC Arms Transfers to Southeast Asia: Asserting Regional Influence
During the 1980s, relations between the People's Republic of China and Thailand rapidly evolved from conflict to cooperation, even developing to the unofficial status of a Beijing-Bangkok axis in Southeast Asia. These developments came about largely due to the Cambodian conflict, wherein both Bangkok and Beijing recognized their mutual interest in resisting the expanding Vietnamese influence in Indochina, particularly after the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in late 1978. Within this framework of anti-Vietnamese cooperation, Chinese arms exports -- through Thailand to Cambodian resistance forces (primarily the Khmer Rouge) and to Thailand Royal Armed Forces -- greatly improved Beijing's security and political interests in the region, and today raise important questions as to future PRC influence and aims in Southeast Asia. In addition, China sought to expand its influence in the region through arms exports to other Southeast Asian nations, including Indonesia, Laos, and Myanmar.
The pages that follow will trace the development of Chinese arms transfers in Southeast Asia, beginning with Sino-Thai relations and their growing military cooperation. This chapter will also take a brief look at China's arms transfers to others in the region -- the Khmer Rouge, Indonesia, Laos, and Myanmar. With a broader and more nuanced understanding of this crucial aspect of China's attempts to become a greater regional influence, we can proceed to analyze more closely the practice, patterns, and prospects of Chinese arms exports and their intentions and influence in Thailand, in Southeast Asia, and along China's strategic periphery.