Quality – A concern for Chinese Communist Party partners, including Pakistan
Quality is a real concern for a customer who buys any product in the market. When I was a young child, I remember accompanying my mother to bazaar where there were toys for sale. As is the need of children, I had sought out one of those very toys to be scolded by the experienced lady – they are Chinese and will not last, she had prophetically said. Although this story goes back two decades, nothing seems to have changed – the litany of complaints against poor quality Chinese products continues today. This article, however, is not about cheap and shoddy Chinese toys, but high-end weapons and military systems where poor quality and workmanship have proven to plague customers.
Nepal Airlines found out the hard way. The airline has grounded six Chinese-made planes saying it is proving unaffordable to fly them. Nepal Airlines pilots and ground staff, according to a report by Wion, have repeatedly told their management that the Chinese-made planes have been causing heavy losses since they were acquired between 2014 and 2018, and that they should be nailed down. on the ground to check for further losses. These substandard aircraft required heavy maintenance with extremely poor maintenance rates. Finally, in 2020, almost six years after the first batch landed in Kathmandu, the board of directors of Nepal Airlines took the decision to ground these planes.
Of the six planes, two were subsidized by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and four were purchased under a government-to-government agreement. The airline is having difficulty repaying the loan because these aircraft have not produced the expected return on investment. To compound Nepal’s national carrier’s problems, even as planes are grounded, the airline still has to pay dues worth $35.1 million to Nepal’s Ministry of Finance, which in turn is reimbursing the CCP loan at a high interest rate of 1.5 percent along with a service charge and management fee amounting to 0.4 percent of the total loan amount.
Can there be other examples of shoddy products aggravating the CCP’s debt trap? The answer is yes. The problems highlighted in Nepal are certainly not unique. China’s close partners, including Myanmar and Bangladesh, have also expressed concerns about the abysmal quality of Chinese-made military equipment. Beijing donated two 1970s Ming-class Type 035G submarines to Bangladesh worth $100 million each in 2017, which were re-inducted as BNS Nobojatra and BNS Joyjatra. Both submarines are inactive due to technical problems. The year 2020 saw the Chinese gift Dhaka with the Wuhan virus and additionally two Chinese 053H3 frigates – BNS Umar Farooq and BNS Abu Ubaidah. But these ships also encountered problems such as non-functioning navigational radars and gun systems. Myanmar forces have also raised numerous complaints about Chinese equipment.
Is this a problem encountered only in South Asia? No, it’s a worldwide phenomenon. Kenya bought VN-4 armored personnel carriers made by Chinese government-owned Chongqing Tiema Industries in 2016. But Chinese sales representatives themselves refused to sit inside the vehicles during a test shot. A few Kenyan personnel died in these vehicles.
Algeria has also experienced a number of accidents involving Chinese CH-4B UCAV drones. The first accident took place in 2013 near the Algerian air base of Tindouf; second near the air base of Ain Oussera; and the third near Bir Rogaa Air Base. Jordan in West Asia bought six of the same Chinese CH-4B UCAVs in 2016, but in June 2019 the country decided to sell them.
But certainly, Pakistan’s iron brother would have had no problem with Chinese military equipment. Nothing could be further from the truth. Faulty Chinese-supplied military equipment has been the bane of Pakistan’s armed forces, which have been used for superior Western-made products, including F-16 fighters, P3C Orion patrol planes and warships British-made Type 21.
The Chinese-made Wing Loong II unmanned aerial systems (UCAV) were grounded due to crippling faults days after their induction into the Pakistan Air Force. The plight of the Pakistan Air Force has been compounded by the pathetic service and maintenance provided by the Chinese firm. The China National Aero-technology Import and Export Corporation has so far been indifferent to desperate pleas for ground drone repair and maintenance. A similar story emerges with the joint production of JF-17 fighters.
According to the Chinese state media account, the country’s modern aircraft are the best in the world. Yet Pakistan’s experience with the Chinese-made JF-17 tells a different story. The PAF has put more than 100 JF-17 Block I and Block II into active service. According to reports, around 40 planes are unairworthy due to a shortage of spare parts. The JF-17’s Russian-made RD-93 engine reportedly experienced frequent cracks in guide vanes, exhaust nozzles and flame stabilizers. The Chinese are trying to replace the RD-93 with the Chinese-made WS-13 engines. When these will be made available to Pakistan remains the debatable question. Pakistan has spent over $3 billion to acquire these 3.5 generation fighters. Whether the expense was really worth it is a question for Pakistani taxpayers to ask.
The same applies to the SAM (surface-to-air missile) system of the Zulfiqar-class frigate, acquired thanks to a loan of several million dollars from the Chinese bank EXIM. The system – itself a clone of the French Crotale system – was plagued with maintenance problems, leading the Pakistan Navy to look to European suppliers for future inductions.
This is certainly only the tip of the iceberg. Many countries unable to acquire expensive military technology from other reliable sources source seemingly inexpensive weapons and systems from the Chinese market. At their peril, they disregard the life cycle costs and reliability factors of Chinese products. The Chinese continue to use financial incentives, including readily available loans, to sell their products.
The story continues, as famous French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr said, “the more things change, the more they stay the same” – the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Aditya Raj Kaul is an editor with over a decade of experience covering conflict, foreign policy and homeland security.
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