A shoulder-fired weapon, called Red Arrow, on display at the booth for the Chinese firm Norinco at IDEX 2023. (Lee Ferran / Breaking Defense)

IDEX 2023 — From armed drones to supersonic cruise missiles, China’s defense industry turned out in force with offerings at this year’s International Defense Exhibition in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, at a time US officials are concerned about Beijing’s influence in the Middle East.

While not close to the more than 100 exhibitors that came here from the US, dozens of Chinese firms are at IDEX 2023, some with prime locations on the show floor, others in a dedicated Chinese pavilion and more still in smaller booths that line concourses, advertising everything from mobile missile launchers to body armor.

The North China Industries Corporation (NORINCO) stand, for instance, is on the center of the show floor where dozens of weapons and platforms — full-scale and models — are on display including the Red Arrow shoulder-launched rocket, the Blue Arrow 21 air-to-surface missile, an AR3 multiple launch rocket system and a CS/LM16 14.5mm rotary machine gun.

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A model of a mobile missile launcher is on display at China’s Norinco booth at IDEX 2023.

At the Poly Technologies stand, the firm is showing off its HD1 supersonic cruise missile alongside the air launched HD-1A. Another Chinese firm, CATIC, is displaying a variety of aircraft including the AR36, an autonomous, low-altitude, long-endurance, multi-purpose, tail-mounted, vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) UAV. Meanwhile, at the main “China Defense” stand, a variety of weapons and platforms are on the show floor including the QW-2 launcher, the Joint Attack Rocket and Missile weapon system and a model of a 4,000-ton frigate.

The sales pitches come while China’s growing economic and military ties in the region have, at times, prompted backlash from the United States, which views China as its top strategic competitor. In the UAE, for example, a government contract with Chinese 5G provider Huawei and what Washington believes may be a Chinese military facility built at a UAE port, have stalled the sales of F-35 stealth fighters and MQ-9 Reaper drones to the Emirates.

“There’s no question that China’s growing presence in the Middle East presents a challenge to the United States that we have to confront,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said at a congressional hearing dedicated to the subject in August, though it did not concentrate on potential arms sales. “[W]e should recognize that while China’s influence in the region is increasing, it has its limits, and that the United States’ commitment to the region — despite much hyped fears of abandonment — continues, as we remain the leading security partner for every country in the region (except, of course, for Iran). We shouldn’t be so insecure as to believe that our partners in the Middle East think China can be taken seriously as an alternative to the United States.”


Armaments are on display at the Chine Defence booth at NAVDEX 2023, IDEX’s sister show. (Lee Ferran / Breaking Defense)

The witness at that hearing, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf, told lawmakers, “A clear-eyed analysis of the PRC’s economic ties with the region… reveals growing influence and areas that require our attention. We must be careful to discern signal from noise within this growing volume of economic activity, but we must also remain attuned to trends that may more directly impinge upon U.S. interests.”

A colleague of Leaf, senior State Department official Stanley Brown, who attended IDEX 2023, didn’t directly address Breaking Defense’s question this week about China’s presence at the show, and instead highlighted America’s close ties with its host.

“Looking at the strategic partnership that we’ve had with the UAE, obviously, IDEX is the kind of the trade show where everyone is looking at their capabilities and showcasing those capabilities for the week,” Brown said. “But the week is even more than that… [it] is just a continuation of what has been a long, strategic partnership with the UAE.”