The commanders of U.S. Central Command and Africa Command warned lawmakers that China’s ability to quickly push through arms sales is costing the United States in two key regions and could have dire consequences in years to come. At the same time, more and more defense officials worry that China, which is rapidly modernizing its military, has become a “pace challenge” for the Pentagon.
Gen. Michael E. Kurilla, the commander of Central Command, which oversees U.S. forces in the Middle East and South Asia, told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday that China’s arms sales to the region have grown by 80 percent over the past decade. “Our security partners have real security needs, but we are losing the ability to provide them.” Curira pointed out that there has been a long wait for U.S. arms sales to be approved and equipment to be delivered.
“What China does is to come in, open the entire catalog, and let you choose.” Curila said that China provides fast delivery and financing, and does not require end-user agreements. The whole process is much faster.
General Michael Langley, commander of AFRICOM, shared a similar story about U.S. partners on the continent. “Even with our significant security cooperation initiative, the process couldn’t be faster,” Langley said.
“There’s a sense of urgency in West Africa, in the Sahel, in Ghana, in Côte d’Ivoire, in Benin, in Togo, they need equipment, they need weapons now,” Langley told lawmakers, so these countries made mistakes Instead, they turn to China or Russia for arms assistance, especially lethal weapons.
Concerns about Chinese arms sales are thus long-standing and will continue, despite Washington’s continued dominance of the arms export market. The US is the world’s largest arms exporter from 2018 to 2022, accounting for 40% of all arms exports, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). China ranks fourth, accounting for just over 5 percent of the global arms export market.
U.S. defense and intelligence officials have been warning for years about the fallout from arms deals between Beijing and African countries. A February 2020 report stated that China is increasing arms sales to African countries through military and technical training.
The Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank, released a report earlier this month analyzing SIPRI data and found that China has gained a considerable advantage in sub-Saharan Africa. Beijing’s arms sales in the region exceeded $2 billion between 2010 and 2021, second only to Russia; between 2017 and 2020, China’s arms exports in the region surpassed that of the United States by a ratio of nearly 3 to 1.
The two commanders told members of Congress that the better China gets along with arms sales, the harder it will be for the U.S. to work with countries that would otherwise choose to work with Washington. “If there is Chinese equipment there, we can’t integrate it with American equipment.” Curira said that whether it is radar or air defense systems, Chinese equipment cannot be allowed to touch the US network.