China on the rise – the case for AAD


This week marks the seventh Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) exhibition and the return of the exhibition to its traditional base at AFB Waterkloof after being held at AFB Ysterplaat, Cape Town in 2006, 2008 and 2010. This year’s AAD features 350 exhibitors, with 40% being foreign exhibitors from 27 countries. The trade days feature twelve National Pavilions, including one from China.

This is not the first time that China has exhibited at the biennial show as they have been regular participants, but the number of participating companies is growing and this year the Chinese National Pavilion is one of the largest.

China has long been an exporter of military and defence products, but the rapid growth in its defence spending in the past two decades, together with increased Western investment in high-tech Chinese industries, has seen the exponential development of the Chinese military-industrial complex.

China is no longer a user of imported low-tech equipment in high volume, but a producer of high-tech equipment, even if much of it is thought to have been acquired via industrial espionage and/or infringements of foreign patents and designs.

Modern China is on the rise, and they’re looking to market their products to a military near you. defenceWeb spoke to a number of the Chinese companies exhibiting at this year’s AAD. From the large State conglomerates to the smaller private company, they were all keen to display their wares to the visiting trade delegates.

China Shipbuilding Trading Co. (CSSC) is a typically large state-controlled company and is the largest ship building group in China. Products range from submarines and warships to tankers and container vessels. With military customers in Africa and the Middle-East and civil customers in North and South America, Europe and Asia, they view AAD as one of the big international shows, on par with the large exhibitions in Malaysia and Abu Dhabi.

CSSC first participated in the 2010 AAD and welcomed the opportunity to participate in the next show two years later, taking a large stand. Their main reason for participating was that they had many customers in Africa and the Middle-East who would be visiting AAD and are thus using the occasion to showcase their products. They do not expect to actually sign contracts at the show.

At the other end of the extreme is Beijing Rescuesafe Co., a small private company producing rescue, tactical and crowd control equipment for police, military and Special Forces. This is their first attendance at AAD and decided to take a small stand as they want to start exporting directly.

Many of the other small Chinese companies expressed the same views at Beijing Rescuesafe.

Another large State-owned conglomerate is China National Aero-Technology Import and Export Corporation (CATIC). CATIC exports fighters, bombers, trainers, helicopters, Unmanned Air Vehicles and a large range of missiles, transport and general aviation aircraft. Clearly there is a large market for CATIC’s products in Africa, but not necessarily South Africa. Nevertheless, CATIC views AAD as an important exhibition, having first exhibited in 2010 and sees it as a great advertisement.

The largest entity in China for research, design, test and manufacture of space launch rockets is China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT). A subsidiary of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), CALT has been in the news recently as having manufactured the launch vehicle for the June 2012 mission in which China performed its first space docking.

This, too, is their first time displaying at an AAD. CALT views AAD as the most important show in Africa, with great influence. CALT already co-operates with a number of African countries with respect to satellite launches, including Nigeria. As such, they want to increase their influence within the space industry. At this stage, CALT has no ties with any South African company or agency.

From this small sample, it is clear that China views South Africa and the Africa Aerospace and Defence exhibition as an important event to showcase their products. While the product quality may not always be the same as that found in more expensive products from traditional suppliers in the West or the states of the former Soviet Union, China is on the rise and they’re keen for business.