Morocco-China: Why Rabat is buying arms from Beijing

By Achraf Tijani
Posted on Thursday, 15 December 2022 10:17

A Chinese Wing Loong II drone, designed and manufactured by the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC). © Liang Xu/Xinhua via AFP

With Chinese military equipment growing in appeal, Morocco, mainly supplied by the US, is ready to do business with Beijing.

Xu/Xinhua Morocco and state-owned defence industry giant China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) are currently engaged in a high-level armament purchasing deal, according to reports from Tactical Report.

Morocco is believed to be interested by China’s recent investments in armament development.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) reports that between 2016-20, Morocco’s Royal Armed Forces (FAR) acquired 99.5% of their weapons from the US (90%), France (9.2%), and the UK (0.3%).

The FD-2000B System

Despite the US and EU establishing themselves as global leaders in weapons manufacturing, Beijing has managed to carve out a place for itself on the global market. This has been demonstrated by the dedication of the Sidi Yahia el-Gharb military base located 60km northeast of the Moroccan capital of Rabat.

In December 2021, the base became the first one of its kind in the Kingdom dedicated to medium and long-range air defence, thanks to the FD2000B system.

With a military activity range of around 250km, these surface-to-air missiles are the first of a four-part order placed by Morocco in 2017 with the Chinese Precision Machinery Import-Export Corporation (CPMIEC).

Arranged on a circular platform launchpad, the said missiles have demonstrated a radius of action designed to include within it the cities of Rabat, Casablanca, Tangier, and Meknes, comprising the major cities of Morocco’s northern region.

We must place these arms purchases within a global economic context

Morocco’s business dealings with the Chinese defence industry have also included, since 2017, the Sky Dragon 50, a series of 50km-range air defence missiles stored at el-Gharb.

Ranking 9th in the world ahead of Thales and Airbus, the Sky Dragon 50’s designer, China North Industries Group Corporation Limited (doing business as Norinco Group), opened a subsidiary in Rabat last November, as part of its sustainable mobility division.

As of now, the reasons explaining this establishment are unknown, but according to scientist Yves Le Pautremat, context is key.

“We must place these arms purchases within a global economic context,” said the geopolitical expert, “there is a logic of Chinese countries planting business-based roots within Morocco, and the need for reinforced security policies will often give rise to the purchase of military defence equipment.”

Great-Value Arms

However, Rabat is not alone in terms of Chinese arms deals.

On a global scale, SIPRI reports that Beijing even managed to supplant France’s defence industry between 2012-16 (before France retook their advantage between 2017-21).

There are certain cost-effective advantages to Chinese munitions, particularly for countries outside the US and EU.

According to a consultant that has requested anonymity, “Chinese equipment is reliable, with good value for money”.

This could be seen in Morocco’s October 2021 acquisition of Chinese-made Wing Loong II drones, designed by the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC).

Though less efficient than its US competitor, the MQ 9 Reaper, the Wing Loong II is seven times cheaper at $5m per unit, fitting within the Kingdom’s financial capabilities.

Nigeria and Egypt have also bought into this more cost-effective appeal of Chinese munitions.

China’s national currency, a major asset in and of itself, has also played a considerable role in the reduced cost of its military equipment.

By devaluing the yuan, China has established an export advantage, much to the displeasure of Washington, DC, which has, on more than one occasion, accused Beijing of manipulating its currency downwards.

Credibility queries

Do cheaper products equate to a potential lack of credibility in the eyes of buyers? Le Pautremat isn’t convinced.

When asked, the scientist said: “There was a general awareness of Chinese know-how from 2007-onwards, when China developed the Dong Neng-2 missile, a weapon capable of destroying satellites located in outer space.

“Many were amazed at this development, as until then, only the United States and Russia had mastered this technology.

Le Pautremat underlines the Moroccan case for regional growth.

“Morocco is committed to its role as a regional player with a diverse cadre of international partners”, particularly in the military field.

The Kingdom has seen fit to diversify its supply sources while doing its best to remain faithful to its standards of conduct in the international diplomatic sector.

As its military continues to develop and modernise, China’s role has become clearer as the Kingdom continues to build itself in a more cost-effective way, potentially paving the way for others to follow suit.

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