China manufactures a number of aircraft that use Russian-made jet engines. For instance, JF-17 uses a Russian RD-93 engine, etc. Similarly, Russian sells AL-31 jet engines for Chinese J-10C jets. These two aircraft have become a strong competitor to Russian Mig-35 aircraft. Similarly, Chinese Y-20 military cargo aircraft uses Russian Soloviev engines. This aircraft has become a strong competitor to Russian-made IL-76.

Why does Russia sell jet engines to China?

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    First, we are probably nearing SE.PO's limits on questions asking about internal motivations. Second, this phenomenon is in not very different to what Western companies have been doing: they felt they needed to access China's market to profit, but the Chinese system of enforced joint ventures and its tendency for industrial espionage has made the actual outcomes questionable in many cases. No VTC or DV on my part though, only this remark. Jan 3 at 18:56
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    I think a similar question had been asked in the past. What would be interesting to see is if there is a tension between the Russian government's aims (improve balance of trade, cozy up to China's anti-West bloc) vs individual state-influenced companies (safeguard their own IP foremost). Jan 3 at 19:03
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    Many businesses sell products and services to their competitors. Why do you think it should be any different for countries?
    – Barmar
    Jan 3 at 23:35
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    After the fall of USSR, Russia is very, very poor. Especially after the West sanction it for the Crimea issue. Russia don't have much it can export, thanks to USSR's policy. So it can only sold whatever it could to get money--vodka, petro/gas, and military hardware
    – Faito Dayo
    Jan 7 at 2:19

Countries with their own defense industries like China, the U.S., and Russia, frequently insist upon making their own major weapons systems, even if they import some parts.

Russia does not see China as a military threat to it, so it wouldn't be considered a threat to Russian national security to sell parts for military equipment being built by Russia. Indeed, the Russian government may see selling military equipment and parts for military equipment to China and other countries that are not hostile to it as a national security asset, because it makes the military might of the purchaser countries beholden to Russian cooperation in the long run as parts need to be replaced over time, and as the customer country wants to buy more units of its existing military equipment systems. These national security concerns may outweigh a "Russia first" international trade policy for the Russian government, and even when China sells its finished aircraft, Russia is at least getting the consolation prize of part of the profits from that sale, even though it isn't getting the full profit from the sale as it would if another country bought one of its finished aircraft.

At the time that some Russian company entered into a contract with China to sell the engines (keep in mind that it is a company that happens to be located in Russia and also does business with the Russian military as a defense contractor, and not "Russia" itself that sold the engines), the Russian company that makes completed aircraft with the parts supplied by the common engine supplier, either (1) didn't have the power to prevent the engine supplier from also selling to China (and perhaps wasn't able to get Russian government backing to prevent this from happening out of diplomatic concerns for Russia-China relations), or (2) didn't anticipate that the Chinese finished aircraft would develop an export market that would compete with the Russian finished aircraft. In the second case it is worth noting that, until very recently, China was not a viable competitor to Russia in the exported finished military aircraft market.

Both possibilities are plausible.

  • Yet, "Russia also still refrains from transferring its most sensitive technologies to China. For example, Moscow has thus far declined to transfer Russian RD-180 rocket engines. Likewise, there are strong indications that it would withhold sale of the Iskander missile despite Chinese interest." Jan 5 at 9:00
  • @Rodrigo de Azevedo - FWIW, regarding rocket engines -- the Chinese space program seems to be getting by, sending people to a space station, robots to moon and mars, and in 2021 was the leading nation in terms of rate of space launches, with just over one a week.
    – Pete W
    Jan 6 at 3:50
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    @PeteW Rockets that put stuff in orbit are not designed to evade anti-ballistic missiles, are they? Jan 6 at 8:34

Beijing is still heavily reliant on Russian aircraft engines, however, due to the great difficulty of reverse engineering advanced turbofan engines. Thus, additional purchases in this area remain likely as well. [...] The purchase of additional Russian turbofan engines will allow China to continue building out its military transport fleet, while keeping its J-10 fighters and H-6K medium-range bombers operational. The J-10 is an important component of China’s air force, while the H-6K allows China to conduct cruise missile strikes out to the second island chain.

Arms transfers are also constrained by Russia’s lingering concern over the dangers of arming a potential future adversary. This explains Russia’s tendency to preference transfers of defensive systems, such as the S-400 air defense system and early warning system technology. While China could conceivably employ previously transferred Su-35 Flankers and Kilo submarines against Russia, they would hardly prove decisive in a future military conflict. Moreover, China has chosen instead to integrate such systems into its counter-intervention strategy, which is aimed squarely at the United States, rather than Russia. By contrast, Russia has refrained from sales of ground combat systems, strategic bombers, and land-attack missiles, offensive weapons that would more fundamentally threaten Russia.

Paul N. Schwartz, The Changing Nature and Implications of Russian Military Transfers to China, Center for Strategic and International Studies, June 21, 2021.

  • 3
    Why does Russia sell jet engines to China? The question is clearly asking why Russia sells them. This answer is why China buys them. Not the same thing. Jan 3 at 23:00

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