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China Topples Germany in Arms Exports

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Asia Defense

China Topples Germany in Arms Exports

Two thirds of Chinese arms exports went to just three countries.

According to new data on international arms transfers published today by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), China was the third largest supplier of arms between 2010 to 2014. During that period, Chinese exports of major arms increased by 143 percent, however overall volume was still significantly behind the United States of America and Russia.

“China’s share of global arms exports increased from 3 to 5 per cent. China became the third largest supplier in 2010–14, slightly ahead of Germany and France. China supplied major arms to 35 states in 2010–14,” according to the fact sheet of the Stockholm-based think tank. The five biggest exporters in 2010–14 were the USA, Russia, China, Germany and France.

Interestingly, the SIPRI publication notes that more than 68 percent of Chinese exports went to just three countries: Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar. Yet, the People’s Republic of China was also active in other parts of Asia such as Indonesia, with which Beijing signed a deal for the supply of hundreds of medium range C-705 anti-ship missiles.

Other major Chinese customers include 18 African states. For example, the Nigerian military allegedly received a number of CH-3 UCAVs – unmanned combat aerial vehicles – for the country’s fight against Boko Haram rebels. Algeria and the PRC signed a contract for the construction of three C-28 A corvettes, the first of which was launched in Shanghai in August 2014.

In South America, Beijing signed a deal for armored vehicles and transport and trainer aircraft with Venezuela, the fact sheet notes.

Of the top then largest importers of major weapons during the five year period 2010–14, five are in Asia: India (15 per cent of global arms imports), China (5 percent), Pakistan (4 percent), South Korea (3 percent) and Singapore (3 percent).

These five countries accounted for 30 percent of the total volume of arms imports worldwide. India accounted for 34 percent of the volume of arms imports to Asia, more than three times as much as China. China’s arms imports actually decreased by 42 percent between 2005–2009 and 2010–14.  As I noted before (see: “China’s Defense Budget to Increase 10 Percent in 2015”), Beijing gradually aims to reduce its weapons imports  in order to bolster a burgeoning domestic arms industry.

“Enabled by continued economic growth and driven by high threat perceptions, Asian countries continue to expand their military capabilities with an emphasis on maritime assets”, said Siemon Wezeman, Senior Researcher with the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure Program. However, he also emphasizes that, “Asian countries generally still depend on imports of major weapons, which have strongly increased and will remain high in the near future.”

The volume of US exports of major weapons rose by 23 percent between 2005–2009 and 2010–14. The USA’s share of the volume of international arms exports was 31 per cent in 2010–14, compared with 27 per cent for Russia. Russian exports of major weapons increased by 37 per cent between 2005–2009 and 2010–14.

“The USA has long seen arms exports as a major foreign policy and security tool, but in recent years exports are increasingly needed to help the US arms industry maintain production levels at a time of decreasing US military expenditure”, said Aude Fleurant, Director of the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure Program.

The SIPRI Arms Transfers Database contains information on all international transfers of major conventional weapons (including sales, gifts and production licences) to states, international organizations and armed non-state groups. It is important to note that SIPRI data reflects the volume of deliveries of arms, not the financial value of the deals.