China in advanced negotiations for major arms deals with Egypt and Saudi Arabia

China in advanced negotiations for major arms deals with Egypt and Saudi Arabia
Amid perceived tensions with the US over alleged war crimes and human rights abuses, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are looking towards China for "no strings" deals for advanced military technology.
3 min read
25 May, 2023
China's hi-tech J-10c fighter jets are just some of the advanced weapons that Egypt and Saudi Arabia are looking to purchase from the People's Republic [Getty]

China is currently in talks with Egypt and Saudi Arabia for major arms deals that will see both countries diversify their weapons supply amid increasingly complicated relations with the US. 

Saudi Arabian Military Industries (SAMI) entered talks with China’s state-owned defence company China North Industries Group Corporation (Norinco)  for a massive weapons deal, according to a report in the South China Morning Post.

Riyadh seeks to purchase a wide range of China’s top-of-the-range military technology, particularly air defence systems and reconnaissance drones.

Though the deal was in the works for around a year, talks had reached advanced stages with finalisation likely to come by the end of the year. If the deal passes, it is likely to be the largest deal Saudi has ever made with non-US military technology suppliers. 

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Meanwhile, Egypt is looking to advance talks that commenced last year with China over the purchase of around 12 of the latest version of the J-10 Vigorous Dragon multirole combat fighter jet.

Representatives of the Egyptian Air Force are due to meet with the Chinese state-owned Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group at the International Maritime and Aeronautical Exhibition in Malaysia later this week. 

US President Joe Biden came into office with the foreign policy objective of barring all sales of “offensive weapons” to Saudi Arabia in light of its use of American military technology in its devastating war in Yemen. 

This policy was contradicted by a $650 million arms deal with Saudi approved by Biden's state department, a deal which allowed Riyadh to maintain attack helicopters that have been used to bomb Yemen. 

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Biden had also initially claimed, regarding the $1.3 billion in military aid that the US provides Egypt annually, that he would get tough on President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi's appalling human rights record

However, this too was contradicted by Washington when the Biden administration agreed to continue the aid despite Egypt's human rights abuses. Due to scrutiny from within Congress, Biden acknowledged Egypt’s human rights abuses by withholding a symbolic $130 million of the aid. 

However, Saudi Arabia and Egypt’s willingness to look towards China for military technology indicates that both Arab countries might consider Washington as too politically compromised and unreliable a supplier.    

According to Song Zhongping, a former People’s Liberation Army (PLA) instructor quoted by the South China Morning Post, the “main appeal” of arms deals with China to countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt is that Beijing is "willing to sell hi-tech weapons equipment to friendly nations without political terms".

In other words, China will overlook potential Saudi war crimes in Yemen or Egypt’s human rights record and is likely to provide weapons with no questions asked. It is unlikely to make even symbolic gestures to protest.

The advancement of the weapons deals with China came amid a shifting geopolitical scene, with signs of defiance of US and Western policy towards Russia by both Egypt and Saudi. 

Just this week, Saudi hosted the heavily US-sanctioned Russian interior minister, while earlier this month Egypt was caught in a now-shelved plan to covertly supply Russia with rockets in its war against Ukraine.