Analyse: Vietnam loosens its ties to Russia and shifts its focus on arms trade

Vietnam plans to make a significant defense shift to lessen its dependence on Russia and to push for local production of weapons. Officials and analysts believe that there are potential buyers in Africa and Asia, as well as Moscow.

The country is among the 20 largest buyers of arms in the world, amid ongoing tensions with China. According to GlobalData (a supplier of intelligence on military procurement), its annual budget for arms imports was approximately $1 billion.

The majority of the money went to Russia over time, who was Vietnam’s primary supplier of arms and defense systems for many decades. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, (SIPRI), Vietnam was one of the largest buyers of Russian arms.

Analysts said that this is slowly changing, as Vietnam tries to be more independent, acquire advanced equipment that Russia cannot provide and faces Western pressure to cut arms sales from Moscow.

Diplomats, officials, and analysts claim that Vietnam has begun to look for suppliers in the United States and East Asia. Analysts and officials claim that it has increased its military production with the support of Israel and other countries and is now looking to export arms.

Nguyen the Phuong was a former defence researcher at Vietnam National University. He is now at University of New South Wales in Australia. Nguyen the Phuong said that there were internal talks about selling weapons to Russia. However, no decisions on this matter are expected.

There was no response from the Russian Embassy in Hanoi or Vietnam’s defense and foreign ministry.

The defence ministry announced that the country would host the first international large-scale arms trade fair. More than 170 companies representing 30 countries will be represented.

These include Western firms such as Lockheed Martin, the U.S. defense contractor, and Nexter in France, along with defence groups from Israel and India.

Vietnam will benefit from the three-day Hanoi event, which is expected to be held in the middle of November. The ministry stated in a November statement that the events would help Vietnam diversify its procurement channels and source technologies in order to manufacture military equipment for Vietnam’s army and exports.

Phuong stated that the country’s defense industry makes armed vehicles as well as light weapons such anti-tank rockets and grenade launchers, and even machine guns.

He said that Vietnam has been developing more advanced systems including radars and antiship missiles in collaboration with foreign companies.

Questions about Pakistan’s defense industry were referred by the Defence Ministry to the Foreign Ministry. The Foreign Ministry did not respond.

The defense ministry published last week in an official paper that the Z111 military company, owned by the Vietnamese government, would be exhibiting pistols, assault rifles, and sniper rifles during the arms fair. This was with the intention of selling them.

Some dozens of Vietnamese defense firms including Viettel (army-controlled Viettel) will be showcasing their products. Sales data are not published by the government or military companies.

Senior researcher at SIPRI Siemon Wezeman said that Vietnam had very few production capabilities. Only small reconnaissance drones have been shipped in Vietnam over the past decade. However, the country’s capabilities to assemble radars, missiles, and ships made by foreign partners has improved.

Potential buyers of small arms are most likely Vietnam’s neighbor Laos or African countries. Vietnam would be able to offer attractive prices for these items, according to Ha Hoang Hop (a military procurement expert) and visiting fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore.

Phuong stated that potential clients include Latin American and Southeast Asian countries.

Half-dozen Russian defense firms have been registered at the Hanoi fair. This includes Rosoboronexport (the state agency that exports and imports weapons).

Hop stated that Vietnam is negotiating deals with other partners to allow them to import satellites or other dual-use products.

This would increase the downward trend in Russian weapon imports, which fell to $72million last year (3% of total imports), from $1 billion at its peak in 2014. That year, SIPRI estimates, was almost 90% of all imports.

Since then, Russia’s imports have fallen every year except for last year when they somewhat recovered following the 2020 nadir. The COVID-19 Pandemic in Vietnam reduced Vietnam’s imports of military equipment to $32million. Of that $9 million, Russian arms accounted for 9 million.

SIPRI data shows that Vietnam recently purchased military equipment from new suppliers including the United States of America, Israel, South Korea and the Netherlands in the recent past.

Vietnam seems to have increased diversification with the “special operation” in Ukraine.

Analysts believe that India, Israel, and Eastern European nations are more well-positioned to be alternative suppliers as they have the capability of providing weapons compatible with Russian systems, which still make up 80% of Vietnam’s arsenal.

Manufacturers in East or West Asia could also supply more sophisticated systems to the West, according to Carl Thayer (an expert on Vietnam diplomacy and the Australian Defence Force Academy).


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