A reported drone deal between China and Pakistan seems to have worked up Indians recently. Last week the Pakistan Air Force’s Sherdils Aerobatic Team announced on its official Facebook account that the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex Kamra and the Aviation Industry Corporation of China’s Chengdu Aircraft Industrial (Group) Company will jointly manufacture 48 Wing Loong II drones. If confirmed, this will be China’s largest drone deal of its kind.
Several Indian media outlets connected the drone deal with India’s $5 billion arms pact signed with Russia last week, indicating a tit-for-tat move against the India-Russia pact. The Times of India even made an unwarranted conclusion that this would create a new battle line between India and Pakistan in the field of armed drones and warned the Chinese drones would be “good targets” for India’s air defense missile systems, citing military experts. Some Indians even called for a boycott of China in their tweets.
According to a Xinhua report, China’s home-developed Wing-Loong II drone can perform reconnaissance, surveillance and ground strike missions, equivalent to the US MQ-9 Reaper drone. With a system extension, it can be used in anti-terrorism, peacekeeping, border patrol operations and civilian use.
Indian media may have read too much into the report. China has long been cautious about arms exports to Pakistan in consideration of the latter’s tense relations with India. The 48 drones are highly likely to be part of China’s efforts to help Pakistan combat the rampant terrorism plaguing the country, rather than targeting India. Although Islamabad has been a key US ally in the anti-terrorism campaign since the 9/11 attacks, its requests for armed drones have been turned down by Washington for the reason of sensitive technology. In 2017 Pakistan witnessed the fourth highest frequency of terror attacks and casualties. Yet the US cancelled $300 million in aid to the South Asian country over terror groups in September as part of its broader suspension of assistance to Islamabad.
India has been the world’s largest arms importer from 2013-17, with Russia and the US being its top two suppliers, according to an annual study by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. India just clinched a deal to purchase the S-400 air defense missile system from Russia and got US agreement to purchase the Predator-B drone in early May.
Combating terrorism is a priority for Pakistan, but it is also a big concern for India. While the Chinese drones help Pakistan rein in terrorism and improve its security situation in the future, they will also benefit India to some degree. Perhaps Indian people and media should see the bright side more and stop feeling they are always being targeted by others.