WASHINGTON -- China is engaged in an extensive effort to buy advanced military hardware from hard-strapped Russian defense industries and to obtain technology from Russian scientists, say concerned U.S. officials and some Russian and Chinese defense specialists.
In a major effort by China to modernize its military capability, the country is in some instances buying military supplies by dealing directly with individual factories throughout Russia, rather than by going through Moscow.
The Russian supplies are in some cases enabling China to get sophisticated military technology that it has been unable to buy from the West since the Bush administration clamped down on sales of such technology to China after the Beijing massacre of 1989, observers say.
The most visible part of the new Russian-Chinese military cooperation was a sale recently completed by Russia to China of 24 Sukhoi-27 warplanes, aircraft that are far more advanced than anything the Chinese air force previously owned.
And according to U.S. officials, the often-clandestine Chinese campaign for military acquisitions in Russia now extends well beyond the the Sukhoi-27s.
"They're looking at MiG-31s and a whole set of new weapons and technology of mass destruction," including missile-guidance systems and nuclear-fusion technology, one senior U.S. official said.
Increased military power resulting from these purchases could make it easier for China to intimidate its neighbors in Southeast Asia, Taiwan and Japan and, some U.S. experts say, could eventually pose a threat to U.S. interests in Asia and the Pacific.
"There are strategic consequences to the idea that Russia would become a principal arms supplier to China," says Jonathan Pollack, an expert on Asian military affairs at Rand Corp.
". . . It may give them more options, more of a power-projection capability than they had in the past," Mr. Pollack said. "Depending on the kind of China we're dealing with, that could have major implications for our security interests in the Western Pacific."
Speaking of the Chinese defense buildup, another senior U.S. official said the Bush administration has been going out of its way to reassure Beijing that the United States does not view China as an enemy, despite hostility voiced in Congress about China's policies on human rights, trade and weapons proliferation.
In addition to China, a number of Southeast Asian countries have been seeking to buy new military hardware, usually from the West.