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Vietnam’s arms imports fall in dribs and drabs despite regional tensions

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HANOI, Vietnam: Vietnam’s arms imports fell significantly last year, marking their lowest volume since 2007, as the country sought to diversify its sources away from Russia, according to data from the International Research Institute on the Stockholm Peace (SIPRI).

Despite an annual budget of more than $1 billion for arms imports, no major orders have been placed in 2023, except for a naval corvette offered by India.

This decline comes against a backdrop of escalating regional tensions, particularly between China and Taiwan, and frequent clashes in the South China Sea. However, experts warn that Vietnam’s limited modern weaponry could leave it vulnerable in a full-scale conflict.

“The disparity in conventional military power will increase in China’s favor if Vietnam continues to flounder,” noted Carl Thayer, a senior expert on Vietnamese security.

Although the Vietnamese government has not commented on the slowdown, a senior defense official mentioned deals reached at a military fair in December 2022, but did not provide details.

Vietnam’s negotiations with potential suppliers have been difficult, with ongoing discussions and competing offers. The country mainly needs warships, fighter jets and drones to modernize its military capabilities. Despite efforts to strengthen its own military industry, Vietnam still relies heavily on imports of large weapons systems.

Russia, historically Vietnam’s main arms supplier, cut global exports last year, complicating supply efforts due to U.S. sanctions. Vietnam’s distance from Moscow began after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, culminating with its first international arms fair in 2022.

However, apart from the acquisition of the Indian Corvette, negotiations with other suppliers, such as Israel, India, the United States and others, have not yet yielded significant results. Cost and integration issues with existing arsenals, primarily Soviet-era equipment, have hampered progress.

According to Nguyen The Phuong, a Vietnam defense expert at the University of New South Wales in Australia, Vietnam’s vulnerability persists in the absence of major purchases.

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