China-Bangladesh Defence Trade: A Comprehensive Overview

Recently, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China announced a joint military exercise with the Bangladesh Armed Forces, named ‘China-Bangladesh Golden Friendship 2024.’ This unprecedented defence exercise in their bilateral relations will focus on UN peacekeeping and counter-terrorism operations. It will incorporate an integrated approach, addressing tasks such as clearing terrorist camps, rescuing hostages, and implementing anti-hijacking measures.

China-Bangladesh Defence Relations

The defence relationship between China and Bangladesh saw a significant boost in 2002 with the signing of a comprehensive defence cooperation agreement. This positioned China as the first nation to form such an extensive defence pact with Bangladesh. Over the last decade, China has become a crucial defence partner to Bangladesh, making it the second-largest recipient of Chinese arms exports globally from 2019 to 2023, after Pakistan.

Furthermore, during this period, Bangladesh ranked 26th among the world’s top arms-importing countries, with 0.9 percent of global imports. Of these imports, 72 percent came from China. Like economic trade, defence trade is a pivotal aspect of the China-Bangladesh relationship. The upcoming joint military exercise necessitates an examination of recent developments in their defence relations.

Defence Budget and Major Imports

Bangladesh set aside $3.8 billion for defense in the fiscal year 2022–2023, or 1.1 percent of its GDP.
China’s influence in Bangladesh’s defence sector is evident through substantial imports of military hardware, with about 86 percent sourced from China. Bangladesh has purchased Chinese military hardware, such as surface-to-air missile systems, naval cannons, anti-ship missiles, and corvettes, for about $2.9 billion during the last ten years. Since 2006, most small arms, including over 1,600 rifles and 4,100 pistols, were purchased from Beijing.

Maritime Boundary Dispute and Submarine Deal

Bangladesh’s defence cooperation with China intensified during its maritime boundary dispute with Myanmar. At a discounted cost of $203 million, Bangladesh purchased two Type 035G (Ming class) submarines from China in 2016. This deal laid the groundwork for its first submarine base. A year later, Poly Technologies, a Chinese state-owned defence contractor, secured a $1.2 billion contract to build Bangladesh’s first submarine base in Cox’s Bazaar, named ‘BNS Sheikh Hasina.’ This base, operational since the previous year, can accommodate six submarines and eight warships simultaneously.

Defence Training and Future Prospects

China has also been involved in training Bangladeshi submariners for managing the submarine base. Sheikh Hasina hinted at possible future Chinese naval visits by saying that ships navigating the Bay of Bengal could ask for help from the station. In 2018, Bangladesh entered into a military agreement with China, including the procurement of K-8W intermediate training jets. The next year, two Type 053 (Jiangwei-II) frigates—which the Bangladesh Navy christened BNS Umer Farooq and BNS Abu Ubaidah—were transferred from China to Bangladesh.

To enhance defence capabilities further, Bangladesh imported 36 F-7BGI aircraft from China in 2021, considered the most advanced model available. According to the US Defence Department’s 2023 annual report, the Chinese Armed Forces are likely considering establishing additional overseas bases in countries like Bangladesh, reflecting China’s role as a major supplier of naval vessels.

Quality Concerns and Operational Challenges

Two Type 053 (Jiangwei-II) frigates, designated BNS Umer Farooq and BNS Abu Ubaidah by the Bangladesh Navy, were moved from China to Bangladesh the next year. Norinco also struggled to provide spare parts for tank maintenance. Additionally, the $3 million HQ-7 short-range surface-to-air missiles from China’s Precision Machinery Import Export Company (CPMIEC) exhibited defects. These defects appeared shortly after delivery. The two Ming-type submarines purchased at a discount also failed to meet operational expectations. They showed multiple defects, including malfunctioning gun systems and navigation radars during transit.

Broader Implications and Future Directions

Dhaka faces significant challenges due to a shortage of trained personnel to address issues with military equipment. Additionally, Beijing has shown a lack of accountability in repairing defective parts, leaving Dhaka to bear the additional costs.

The substandard performance of Chinese-supplied military technology has imposed extra burdens on purchasing nations. These nations often rely on Chinese arms exports for their cost-effectiveness. Due to consistently poor quality and performance, Chinese arms exports have declined by 5.3 percent. This decline occurred between 2014-18 and 2019-23. Chinese arms exports now make up 5.8 percent of global arms exports. Technological incompatibility with Chinese equipment adds another hidden cost for buyer countries like Bangladesh. Furthermore, Chinese weapons, apart from failing to meet certified standards, have not been tested in combat situations. Despite the cost advantages, the lack of transparency and accountability in defence contracts has negatively impacted China’s share in global arms exports due to the financial burdens placed on purchasing countries.


The China-Bangladesh defence trade has evolved significantly over the past two decades. China has emerged as a major supplier of military hardware to Bangladesh. Despite this strong partnership, recurring quality issues with Chinese-supplied arms are a concern. These issues highlight the need for Dhaka to diversify its defence procurement sources. The upcoming joint military exercise symbolizes a strategic step towards strengthening bilateral relations. It also addresses the challenges posed by the quality of military imports.

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