China's arms deals topped US$3.6b
China was the developing world's largest arms customer last year, signing trade agreements worth more than US$3.6 billion, according to a US government report.
The Congressional Research Service, the analysis branch of the US Congress, said in its Conventional Arms Transfers 1995-2002 Report, that for the seven-year period, China had signed deals to buy US$17.8 billion of weapons.
But in terms of weapons delivered over this period, the mainland falls to fourth-largest importer among developing nations, with Taiwan in second place.
The mainland received arms deliveries of US$9.3 billion and Taiwan received US$20 billion. Only Saudi Arabia had more weapons delivered at US$64.5 billion.
The report said Russia was the biggest arms supplier to the mainland. Since 1996, it said China had bought from Moscow at least 72 Su-27 jet fighters, two Sovremenny-class destroyers, missiles systems and four Kilo-class attack submarines.
Last year China agreed to buy eight Kilo-class project 636 submarines and had options to purchase two additional destroyers and surface-to-air missiles.
As well as being a significant importer, the US report said China was also a major arms exporter to other developing nations in Asia, Africa, and the near east, with transfer agreements averaging around US$1 billion a year. The figure peaked in 1999 at US$2.7 billion but dropped to US$300 million last year.
Key Chinese exports highlighted by the report were Silkworm anti-ship missiles to Iran. However, it did say that the mainland was not likely to become a major supplier in the international arms market because of the availability of more sophisticated weapons from Russia and other western nations.
Independent analysts agree with the report's conclusions about China as the developing world's major weapons importer. They said that as China's hi-tech military industries lag behind the top weapon producers in the world, it will continue to depend on imports for its modernisation drive.
In terms of assessing a threat, Bjorn Hagelin of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said a more critical concern was the mainland's missile build-up along the Fujian coast opposite Taiwan. It said there were about 450 missiles in position, with the number increasing by 75 a year.