Cyberwar? Top China arms-maker flames Russian rival on WeChat

Norinco is resorting to social media to lob military-grade taunts at its Russian rival’s most advanced tank. It took to popular messaging service WeChat in May to tout its top-line armored vehicles… and trash-talk the competition.

The Beijing-based company took aim at a widely reported and embarrassing incident involving the T-14 Armata, the latest product of Russia’s military machine. One of the high-tech tanks ground to an abrupt halt on Red Square during rehearsals for the 70th anniversary celebrations of World War II victory.

The jibe was particularly galling given Russia and China were allies who suffered the worst casualties in that global conflict.

“The T-14’s transmission is not well-developed, as we saw through a malfunction taking place during a rehearsal before the May 9 parade,” Norinco said in a Chinese-language post on its official WeChat account. “The VT-4 has never encountered such problems so far. Our tanks also have world-class fire-control systems, which the Russians are still trying to catch up with.”

As global demand declines, China North Industries Group Corp. is looking to expand sales in emerging economies in Asia and Africa, where the state-owned conglomerate is bumping up against established Russian, European and American arms dealers.

The choice should be obvious, according to the Chinese company.

The Russians are charging as much as an Abrams battle tank made by General Dynamics Land Systems, Norinco said. The US company makes some of the world’s most advanced battle tanks, with an Abrams going for about $6-million according to a 2012 army report to Congress.

“If an international client wants to buy a new tank, it can only choose between China and Russia,” Norinco said in a Chinese-language post on its official WeChat account. “Why don’t buyers consider Chinese tanks that have well-developed technologies and equipment as well as much-lower prices?”

The T-14 is made by industrial manufacturer OAO NPK Uralvagonzavod, whose representatives did not respond to calls for comment.

‘Set meal’
Norinco and other Chinese arms makers post comparisons on Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s WeChat service that could be too diplomatically provocative to post on their websites, according to the state-run China Daily.

In May, Russia and China agreed to not conduct cyber- attacks against each other. But more than a year after Russia and China signed a long-negotiated gas pipeline deal, there are few concrete signs of the cementing of the vaunted rapprochement between the two, putting paid to the idea the two countries are heading toward a meaningful anti-US alliance.

“This is still very much a relationship of convenience,” said Bobo Lo, associate fellow at Chatham House, whose book “Russia and the New World Disorder” will be published in August.

“This is about working out what you can get and not being afraid to take opportunities as they arise.”

May’s WeChat post isn’t the first time Norinco has resorted to innovative marketing.

It offers starter kits of basic defense gear – everything from rifles to howitzers, laser-guided bombs, armored personnel carriers, tanks and drones – for governments that want to quickly outfit their armed forces. Chinese media have dubbed the package a “military set meal”.

Norinco’s sales have expanded faster than any other major defense company over the past five years, surpassing Lockheed Martin Corp., maker of the F-35 fighter, and General Dynamics Corp.

The Chinese armaments maker’s $62-billion in revenue as of 2013 and more than 275 000 employees embody the clout of China’s defense industry, which the US Pentagon recently warned in an annual report “has the potential to reduce core US military technological advantages”.

With foreign sales of $7.4-billion over the five years through 2013, China overtook France to become the world’s fourth-largest arms exporter, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. – Bloomberg, with assistance from David Tweed in Hong Kong.

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