China almost doubles weapons exports over past five years, with Pakistan biggest buyer: think tank

Surge in arms exports signals growing confidence in China’s home-grown weaponry

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 February, 2016, 10:06am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 February, 2016, 1:43am

China has almost doubled its weapons sales over the past five years, an international military think tank said yesterday, as the world’s third-largest weapons exporter pours capital into developing an advanced arms manufacturing industry.

At the same time, the nation’s arms imports fell 25 per cent between 2011 and 2015 compared with the previous five years – indicating its growing competence in home-grown weaponry, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said in its latest report on international arms transfers.

Mainland military analysts said China’s military research and development push was yielding results after years of increasing spending, and exports would continue to grow as Beijing pressed on with plans to boost its defence industry.

READ MORE: Beijing eyes bigger arms exports after Pakistan deal, experts say

The analysts estimated that one-third of the country’s military budget – which stood at 886.9 billion yuan (HK$1 trillion) last year, would go to weapon purchases and military R&D.

The Sipri report said Chinese exports of major arms grew by 88 per cent in 2011-2015 compared with the previous five years.

Its share of global arms exports rose from 3.6 per cent to 5.9 per cent, while the United States (33 per cent) and Russia (25 per cent) remain the dominant sellers worldwide.

China supplied major arms to 37 countries, but three-quarters of these exports were to countries in Asia and Oceania, where Chinese arms exports were 139 per cent higher than in 2006-2010.

Pakistan was the main recipient of Chinese exports, accounting for 35 per cent, followed by Bangladesh with 20 per cent and Myanmar 16 per cent, the report said.

Three weeks before President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) trip in July, Pakistan approved a US$5 billion deal to buy eight submarines from China, Reuters cited an unnamed Pakistani government official as saying. Experts said that deal would be China’s largest single sale of submarines.

Globally, flows of arms to Africa increased by 19 per cent between 2006-2010 and 2011-2015, and 26 per cent for Asia and Oceania. Exports to the Middle East were up 61 per cent over the period but there was a fall in arms sales to Europe and the Americas, the report said.

Xu Guangyu (徐光裕), a retired general who is now a senior researcher at the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, said greater security risks and better economic conditions in Africa, Asia and the Middle East prompted countries in the region to stock up on arms.

“On the one hand this means improving economies in these regions enabled countries to upgrade their military facilities,” Xu said.

“On other hand, it means that countries in these regions need new weapons to face new security threats.”

READ MORE: China edges out Germany to rank third in global arms exports

Retired colonel Yue Gang said many of the buyers were attracted to the Chinese weapons because of their lower cost and they could not afford Western arms.

“Chinese weapons are well-known for their excellent quality and low price, which is very attractive to many small countries, especially less-developed nations who don’t want to spend more on maintenance,” Yue said.

But the Sipri report also said China remained partly dependent on imports for some key weapons and equipment, including large transport aircraft and helicopters, and engines for aircraft, vehicles and ships.

China’s largest supplier was Russia, which accounted for 59 per cent of Chinese imports, followed by France with 15 per cent and Ukraine with 14 per cent, the report said.

Additional reporting by Reuters