China showcases weapons during Lao war games

Lao troops got firsthand experience using modern Chinese weapons during joint China-Laos military exercises, which analysts say neighboring Vietnam is watching warily.
The three weeks of drills – Friendship Shield 2023 – are taking place through May 28 in an army training ground near the Lao capital Vientiane. They began May 9, with some 200 Chinese troops and 700 Lao troops taking part.
The exercise is aimed at “exchanging experiences between the two militaries, as well as a concrete measure to deepen friendship and boost cooperation between the two countries,” the Chinese Ministry of Defense said in a statement.
“Such events will definitely keep the Vietnamese military busy,” said Wendell Minnick, an independent military analyst based in Taipei, pointing to the proximity between Laos and Vietnam.
“Vietnam is Laos" biggest traditional ally but Vientiane in recent years have been edging towards China,” Minnick told RFA. 
Furthermore, “China’s military has been in Laos since the Vietnam War,” he added.
China has been eyeing Laos as a potential market for its exports, including military equipment, but so far the land-locked country has not bought much because of lack of money.
Most of the weapons and military equipment used by the Lao army date from the Soviet era, and after that, Russia.
In April 2017, Beijing gifted the Lao Defense Ministry “office equipment,” according to a report by Xinhua, which observers suspected could in fact be defense equipment. That November, Vientiane announced a multi-million-dollar contract to buy weapons and equipment from China’s state-owned China North Industries Corp.
There were no details of the deal nor whether any progress has been made in implementing it.
‘High level of mutual trust’
The Chinese state-run TV network CCTV on Wednesday ran a brief news item on the Friendship Shield 2023, in which Lao personnel were seen practicing live-fire target shooting with Chinese guns and rifles under the guidance of Chinese instructors.
“The Lao forces for the first time got … first-hand experience using the next-generation service rifle of the Chinese People"s Liberation Army (PLA),” said the Chinese newspaper Global Times.
The paper quoted Chinese experts as saying that the weapons exchanges “display a high level of mutual trust and military cooperation.”
Lao and Chinese troops practicing live-fire shooting during the Friendship Shield-2023 joint exercise in May, 2023. Credit: Screenshot from CCTV video

The Chinese light arms used in the exercise included fast pistols, multi-stance rifles and long-range sniper rifles.
The troops also practiced live-fire shooting of vehicle-mounted weapons, man-portable rocket launchers, grenade launching snipers and mortars, CCTV reported.
New rifle
The Chinese military brought to the joint drills a new type of assault rifle – the Type 191 – said to be much lighter and having almost double the service life compared with the PLA"s previous service rifle, the Type 95.
The Type 191 was first seen at China’s 70th Anniversary Military Parade in 2019 and is believed to have been recently issued to the troops at the Xinjiang Military Region.
“I don’t think the new rifle is that superior,” said Jyh-Shyang Sheu, a senior researcher who specializes in the PLA ground weapons and equipment at Taiwan’s Institute for National Defense and Security Research.
“Perhaps the new model of ammunition is improved though of the same caliber, but the Type 191 is still just another Chinese-made assault rifle not too dissimilar from their previous model QBZ-95,” Sheu told RFA.
It is unclear whether the rifle will be offered to Laos.
While small arms such as the rifles are inexpensive and could be within reach for the Laos army, they are “not a game changer,” said military analyst Minnick.
But the PLA “knows what Laos can handle, and small arms are low cost and low maintenance.”
“If Laos needs higher technology for its defense China will simply place Laos under its defense umbrella,” said the military analyst, “Missiles and radars can simply be moved to Laos in a debt forgiven leasing agreement and operated by Chinese technicians under a Laos flag.”
Vietnam watching
The Lao-China drills have gone unreported in Vietnamese state media, but military analysts in Vietnam have been closely watching developments there. 
Vietnam is officially Laos’ only military ally as the two countries signed a defense treaty in September 1977. Their communist regimes have strong ties that pre-date their rise to power in 1975 after the Vietnam War. 
But as China’s economic clout has grown, its partnership with Laos has deepened. While Vietnam and China also have fraternal relations, there are some tensions between them. They fought a border war in 1979 and have competing claims in the South China Sea.
An observer in Hanoi who didn’t want to be named due to the sensitivity of the subject said while “there’s a large number of Chinese military equipment in Laos, they are in general not of great quality.”
Another analyst, Khang Vu, from Boston College, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that the ongoing joint drills may help draw Laos deeper into China’s sphere of influence.
“The increased defense cooperation between China and Laos will weaken the Vietnam-Laos defense ties,” Khang said.
RFA Vietnamese contributed to this report.
Edited by Mike Firn and Malcolm Foster.


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