US worried about growing Chinese weapons sales in ME, warns allies
The United States is afraid of the progress being made by China in terms of its arms sales to Middle Eastern countries.
The United States is sounding the alarm about the growing number of Chinese arms sales taking place in the Middle East, especially with many of its old allies, although Beijing is not providing any arms that would directly or necessarily replace any of Washington's weapons, Business Insider reported Friday.
China selling weapons in a region that the US seeks to maintain a foothold in and has many key partners in prompted US officials to underline that Beijing could undermine the US military's ability to integrate with the aforementioned partners.
Though it is not selling weapons that would directly replace any pre-existing US ones, China is cultivating a lot of interest from Middle Eastern countries as they seek to diversify their arsenals and stockpiles amid increasing concerns about Washington's commitment to the region's security.
US Central Command chief General Michael Kurilla warned that Chinese and US-made weapons could not be integrated, as each military has its own system. "If there is Chinese equipment there, we cannot integrate it with US equipment," Business Insider quoted the official as saying.
Moreover, he underlined that Washington, poked by Beijing, is "in a race to integrate with our partners before China can fully penetrate the region."
Former US Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl also stressed that same point, saying Chinese military equipment in allied states would be an obstacle to integrated air and missile defense.
"One thing that's not going to lead to integrated air- and missile defense is a bunch of Chinese military equipment in these countries that won't be interoperable with our systems and they won't be allowed to plug into whatever network we're building because of the counterintelligence problems," Kahl said, according to Business Insider.
The former US official also claimed that the issue was "not punitive", stressing that Washington would not allow Chinese air defense systems to interact with its networks.
This comes at a time when, over the past decades, Chinese arms sales have surged by 80% in the Middle East as China goes on to establish itself as a reliable regional and international partner whose technological prowess, and even stipulations about arms purchases, are making it a favorable arms trades partner.
China started out as an alternative, and today, it is a peer. Back in the 2010s, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates bought Chinese armed drones after Washington would not sell them any.
Ahmed Aboudouh, an associate fellow at Chatham House, told Business Insider that China is focused on "filling the gap of light, low-cost combat weapons system", which the US only promoted by imposing restrictions on certain sales.
The strategic sales made by China "are inseparable components" of its "worldwide strategy of becoming a major arms producer and controlling a more significant global share in weapons sales" than the US, Russia, and Europe," he added.
China is even forcing the United States to change its policies. A Pentagon spokesperson told Politico in April that over 80 internal recommendations from a task force speeding up the sale process are being considered by US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and some of these recommendations have already reached the level of possible implementation by the Pentagon policy chief.
The aim of the efforts is to compete with China and replace weapons sent to Ukraine as Secretary of State Antony Blinken is also due to receive recommendations from the US State Department on ways to improve the sale process.
A department spokesperson added that the challenge is to expand industrial capacity, but the State Department can do its part to ensure the process runs smoothly.
As Washington tries to up the pace, it is greatly dependent on China for the parts and machinery it uses in its production lines. Meanwhile, Beijing extended sanctions on Lockheed Martin and Raytheon Missiles & Defense and prohibited domestic companies from doing business with the US military giants.
Lockheed Martin and Raytheon Technologies were placed on an "unreliable enterprises list" over arms sales to Taiwan in February 2023.
The laws introduced then forbid Lockheed Martin and Raytheon Missile and Defense Corporation, a subsidiary of Raytheon Technologies, from "participating in import and export activities connected to China."