Vietnam arms imports drop to a trickle despite regional tensions
Vietnam arms imports drop to a trickle despite regional tensions
Vietnam arms imports drop to a trickle despite regional tensions
by DZRH News14 March 2024
FILE PHOTO: Russian-made Surface-to-surface missile R17-E (Scud-B) is displayed at the Vietnam International Defence Expo 2022, in Hanoi, Vietnam, December 8, 2022. REUTERS/Khanh Vu/File Photo

By Francesco Guarascio

HANOI (Reuters) - Vietnam's imports of weapons last year slowed to a trickle as it worked to diversify supplies away from Russia, data released on Monday show, while experts warned the country could be vulnerable during a regional conflict.

Despite an estimated budget of more than $1 billion annually for arms imports, last year it placed no new major orders, according to data released on Monday by defence think tank Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

The main delivery was a naval corvette donated by India, data show, making 2023 arms imports Vietnam's lowest by volume since 2007 - other than 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Amid rising tensions between China and Taiwan, and frequent skirmishes in the South China Sea between Chinese vessels and ships from other regional powers, Communist-ruled Vietnam lacks enough modern weaponry to defend itself in a large-scale conflict, defence experts say.

"The disparity in conventional military power will increase in China's favour if Vietnam continues to mark time," said Carl Thayer, a senior expert in Vietnam security at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra.

The Vietnamese government declined to comment on the reasons for the apparent slowdown. A top defence official said in January that the country had reached several deals at a military fair in December 2022, but the defence ministry did not elaborate.

The lack of public deals may be the result of ongoing hard negotiations, with Vietnam considering competing offers, said Siemon Wezeman, a senior researcher at SIPRI.


The Southeast Asian nation mostly needs warships, fighter jets and drones, Thayer and other experts say. It operates air defence systems imported from Russia and Israel, some of which were first introduced more than 30 years ago, according to a 2019 report from the defence ministry.

The country is trying to improve its own military industry but cannot yet produce large weapons, such as aircraft or ships.

Russia, for decades Vietnam's top provider of weapons, markedly reduced its global arms exports last year, SIPRI data show, and Vietnam has struggled to pay for Russian weapons without breaching U.S. sanctions, according to two people briefed on the discussions. They declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Hanoi held its first international arms fair in 2022, saying publicly that it wanted to diversify its supplies from Moscow, confirming a shift that began after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, according to public data.


But talks with other potential sellers have not yet produced visible results.

Israel, Vietnam's second-largest arms supplier, has not sold Hanoi any weapons in the last two years, according to SIPRI data, although Israel's global arms exports have increased in that period.

Vietnam's talks with other possible suppliers, including India, the United States, South Korea, Japan and the Czech Republic have intensified but no major deals, except the Indian corvette, have been reported amid issues over costs and integration with the existing arsenal, much of which has origins in the Soviet Union, experts said.

A second arms fair is planned for in Hanoi in December.


In the meantime Vietnam is leaning on diplomacy to maintain good relations with the superpowers.

But without major purchases, Vietnam remains "very vulnerable", said Nguyen The Phuong, a Vietnam defence expert at the University of New South Wales in Australia.

(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio; additional reporting by Khanh Vu; editing by Miral Fahmy and Gerry Doyle)

Related Topics
listen Live
DZRH News Live Streaming
Most Read