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Russian weapons have fewer recipients in Southeast Asia

hhardwired to The psychology of those who run Southeast Asia is that they live in a dangerous world. Their region has seen great power competition between the US, China and India. China has overlapping claims in the South China Sea with five Southeast Asian countries and is aggressive. The camaraderie and consensus that dominate discussions in the regional club of the ten-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations is partly an attempt to mask a history of mutual suspicion and conflict. In Southeast Asia, strong defense is the foundation of a strong country.Tiny Singapore spends almost 3% of gross domestic product In defense, more than any European country except Greece, Russia and Ukraine. In Burma, generals turned their arms against their countrymen.

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So where Southeast Asian countries buy weapons is a big question — and Russia’s long-distance invasion of Ukraine upends everything. In the two decades leading up to World War I, Russia was easily the largest arms supplier to the region, selling $11 billion worth of arms, with the United States, France, Germany and others not far behind.Russia offers high-tech weapons at affordable prices, says Ian Storey Institute of Earth Sciences– Yusof Ishak Institute, a research institute in Singapore. It also accepts barter items as a payment method. It doesn’t care about human rights at all. Corruption fuels deals.

Even before the war, however, Russian arms sales were slowing. Vietnam, easily the largest Russian buyer in the region, has put military modernization on hold over concerns about corruption. Others fear punishment after the United States passed sanctions legislation in 2017 against Iran, North Korea and Russia. Indonesia dropped a deal to buy Su-35 fighter jets; the Philippines shelved plans for Russian helicopters.

Russian sales to Southeast Asia have collapsed since the war and are unlikely to recover. Some states are concerned about the reputational risk of buying goods from Russia. All have seen how poorly some Russian weapons fared in war. And even if Asian countries want to continue buying Russian weapons, it will be difficult. Siemon Wezeman of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Academy of Sciences) said that tough sanctions on Russia, including sanctions on Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan in Asia, would complicate Russian companies’ access to advanced technologies that are critical not only for building weapons systems, but also for upgrading them Also crucial is life expectancy. Vietnam’s armed forces, in particular, now look exposed for their dependence on Russia.

Who will fill the vacancy in Russia? China wants it, but it doesn’t look right. China’s arms sales in Southeast Asia have fallen by two-fifths in the five years to 2021 compared with five years ago. Singapore prefers defense ties with the West. Countries that have disputes with China in the South China Sea, including Vietnam, rarely buy weapons from potential rivals there.

There are also quality issues with some Chinese kits. The former general in charge of Thailand struck a deal with China in 2017 to buy three submarines worth an estimated $1 billion. However, the project has struggled due to a lack of viable Chinese engines. It would be a huge embarrassment for China if Thailand scaled back or canceled contracts, as Mr Storey believes. Even the brutal Burmese military junta, ostracized by most of the world but not by Russia or China, is unhappy with the quality of the fighter fleet built by the Sino-Pakistan joint venture; as long as they are safe to fly, it will send them go back. Partly in response, the junta has tightened ties with Russia as it wages war on the opposition. Myanmar thus joins a long list of countries destabilized by Russian weapons.

Indian arms makers are also looking to bridge the gap – a deal to supply Indonesia with BrahMos cruise missiles looks imminent. But the big winner from the exit of Russian arms dealers is South Korea, a big exporter in other industries, Academy of Sciences After all, it is now the largest arms supplier in the region.

Its arms win with price, quality, credit and prompt delivery. Korean suppliers are happy to transfer technology to their customers, starting with Indonesia, which is building naval vessels with South Korean help (the region has no indigenous defense industry to speak of). Equally intriguing is South Korea’s little involvement in the geopolitical grand game being played out in Southeast Asia. To many in the region, that matters.

Read more from our Asia columnist Banyan:
Micronesia vs. China (March 16)
Fissures in Singapore’s first family grow sharper (March 9)
New Zealand has the right to atone for its colonial crimes in the Pacific (March 2)

Plus: How the Banyan column got its name

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