Procurement: South Africa Forces China To Play Nice

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November 30, 2010: A South African firm (MLS, Mobile Land Systems) is selling China eleven MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicles. But the sale includes the transfer of technology, for a fee. The South Africans insisted on this, and the Chinese went along. The Chinese complied because they knew that the South Africans were aware of the Chinese tendency to just steal such technology.

China will buy (license) military technology when it can, but because China is a police state, and often acts like one even to outsiders, most Western military technology is unavailable for license. So China steals it, or buys it in secret. Often China will steal the technology even when it is available for sale. China has been doing this to Russia for decades, and was recently forced, by Russian threats of legal and diplomatic action, to sign an agreement promising to stop the technology theft. It won't, but the agreement will make it more costly for China when they get caught in the future and the Russian lawyers come after them.

China regularly plunders military technology wherever it can find it. South Africa was a target in the past. A recent example was the Chinese effort to develop a helicopter gunship; the Z10. By last year, eight prototypes had been built. Development of the Z-10 began during the early 1990s, but the Chinese kept encountering technical problems they could not easily solve. So China approached helicopter gunship manufacturers in South Africa and Italy for technical assistance. The South Africans turned them, because all the Chinese apparently wanted was to buy a single Rooivalk gunship. The manufacturer, Denel, refused, realizing that the Chinese, as they have so often done in the past, simply wanted to reverse engineer elements of the Rooivalk, without paying for any technology used. South African firms has since uncovered evidence of China stealing technology for South African missiles, electronics and artillery.

One of these thefts was revealed two years ago, when China offered for export sale an air-to-air missile similar to the U.S. AIM-9X, and the South African A-Darter. The Chinese had tried to buy the A-Darter technology, and some serious negotiations ensued (during which Chinese engineers got a close look at the A-Darter), but the deal fell through in 2001. Now the Chinese are selling what appears to be a clone of the A-Darter. Coincidence? Not likely, if you take a look at the Chinese track record. So when it came to the MRAP deal, which may result in China building 10,000 of the vehicles, the South Africans let be known that they were aware of Chinese methods, and would only proceed if South African technology was paid for.

MRAPS are 8-20 ton trucks that are hardened to survive bombs and mines. These are built using construction techniques pioneered by South African firms. The South African technology was imported into the U.S. in 1998, and has already been used in the design of vehicles used by peacekeepers in the Balkans. These vehicles use a capsule design to protect the passengers and key vehicle components from mines and roadside bombs.

The Chinese MRAP was based on a South African model, modified to Chinese specifications. The first three will be built in South Africa, with the parts for the other eight shipped to China, where South African engineers will supervise their assembly by the Chinese. As long as the Chinese hold up their end of the contract, South African personnel will continue to transfer the technology. China is trying to clean up its act with regards to theft of intellectual property. China does this out of self-interest, as there is a growing quantity of Chinese inventions that can be stolen. So the South African deal provides an opportunity to show that China can be trusted.

 


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