Malaysia denies report of China’s weapons offer

Malaysia denies report of China’s weapons offer
File photo of Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak shaking hands with China's President Xi Jinping. Photo: Reuters

Malaysia denies report of China’s weapons offer

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s defence ministry on Thursday (Aug 10) denied a report claiming that China has offered Putrajaya rocket launchers and a radar system that will be based in Johor.

“As far as the Malaysian Mindef (Ministry of Defence) is concerned, we are unaware of any offers made by China to Malaysia,” a defence ministry spokesman told TODAY.

Treasury secretary-general Mohammad Irwan Serigar Abdullah also denied knowledge of the  deal when he was asked about it by a Reuters reporter. “This is the first time I’m hearing it,” he said.

China’s Foreign Ministry referred questions by Reuters on the issue to the Defence Ministry, which declined to comment, saying weapons exports were not part of its remit.

The remarks by the Malaysian officials came a day after The Malaysian Insight news website reported that a high-level delegation headed by President Xi Jinping’s special envoy had made the offer on Wednesday. The delegation was in Malaysia for the launch of a major railway project.

“Up to 12 units of the AR3 multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) will be offered to Malaysia in a purchase programme with a loan period of 50 years,” The Malaysian Insight quoted an unidentified source as saying. “The MLRS, which has a top range of 220km, will be located in Johor with a radar system.”

The report gave no further details on the size of the loan, the cost of the ordnance, or the type of radar system being offered.

Malaysia had previously signed a deal to buy four Littoral Mission Ships from China — its most significant purchase with Beijing to date. The AR3 multiple launch rocket system is an artillery rocket system developed by China’s Norinco specially for export. 

The website describes the AR3, unveiled in 2011, as the most powerful MLRS in the world that launches conventional and guided missiles.

But Mr Ridzwan Rahmat, who is a senior analyst at defence consultancy Jane’s by IHS Markit, told TODAY that “it makes no strategic sense” for Beijing to specifically ask for the MLRS to be based in Johor. “If the system has indeed been offered, it is for commercial and military industry relationship reasons,” he said.

Already, the Malaysian military possesses an MLRS — the Brazilian-made Astros II, which has a longer range compared with the AR3.

Responding to a query on whether the AR3 would affect the Singapore-Malaysia military equation, Dr Wu Shang-su, a research fellow at S Rajaratnam School of International Studies’ (RSIS) military studies programme said: “(The AR3) is not a new system, and there are various countermeasures available against it.”

Dr Wu added: “In addition, Singapore has the experience of responding to Astros II with some added capabilities. A similar challenge would not be new for Singaporean defence planners.” 

RSIS senior fellow and military transformation programme coordinator Richard Bitzinger added that if indeed there was such an offer, “the Chinese probably did this as a way to use Malaysia to get further engaged in selling arms to the region”. 

“China’s defence industry is becoming increasingly capable in certain limited niches and it wants to make money,” he said. WITH AGENCIES