Asia Defense

Vietnam Now World’s Eighth Largest Arms Importer

Hanoi emerges as one of the globe’s top importers amid regional tensions.

Vietnam has emerged as one of the world’s largest arms importers over the past few years, recent data from a leading think tank has revealed.

According to the latest annual study of global arms patterns released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Vietnam was the eighth largest arms importer in the world from 2011 to 2015, up from just 43rd in the previous five-year period. Hanoi’s arms imports rose by 699 percent in between those periods and it accounted for roughly three percent of global purchases from 2011 to 2015, SIPRI data showed.

Vietnam’s growing military muscle is occurring in a region that is also ramping up its spending on arms. SIPRI found that arms imports by states in Asia and Oceania in general increased by 26 percent between 2006-2010 and 2011-2015, with states in the region receiving 46 percent of global imports in 2011-2015. Supply-wise, within Asia China was unsurprisingly the big story, with Beijing emerging as the world’s third largest arms provider, supplying roughly six percent of global arms over the past five years, up from 3.6 percent during the 2006-2010 period.

More generally, Asia is expected to continue to be a key driver of global defense spending over the next few years, with spending forecast to hit $533 billion annually in 2020, up from $435 billion in 2015, according to recent figures released by IHS Jane’s last December. According to the London-based military publisher, the Asia-Pacific is expected to account for one in three dollars spent on defense by the early 2020s, up from one in five in 2010. Within Southeast Asia, Jane’s found that the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam were the three countries that registered the fastest-growing defense budgets for 2015 relative to the previous year.

In Vietnam’s case, while the country’s military modernization is due to a variety of factors, one major driver is no doubt the South China Sea disputes. Hanoi, a claimant in those disputes, has been a primary target of Beijing’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea, with a placement of an oil rig in Vietnamese waters in 2014 triggering an armed clash and diplomatic crisis between the two countries. Vietnam is in the process of boosting its military capabilities, including jet fighters, naval frigates, and attack submarines. Last year, reports suggested that Hanoi had deployed the first of its Kilo-class submarines from Russia to the South China Sea.

Meanwhile, Beijing’s assertiveness in the South China Sea shows few signs of easing. Last week, China deployed an advanced surface-to-air missile system on Woody Island, one of the disputed Paracel islands in the northern half of the South China Sea which is also claimed by Vietnam. And on Monday, the eve of Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi visit to the United States, newly released satellite imagery from the CSIS Maritime Transparency Initiative showed that Beijing had built what could be a high-frequency radar system on Cuarteron reef in the Spratlys which would significantly boost its ability to monitor surface and air traffic in the southern portion of the South China Sea (See: “Vietnam to Get Fifth Kilo Submarine From Russia in Early 2016”).