China is now the world’s fifth-largest arms exporter

Well, here’s another sign of China’s rise: the Asian giant has replaced Britain as the world’s fifth-largest weapons supplier, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. As SIPRI notes, this is the first time that Britain hasn’t made the top five since the institute started the rankings in 1950. The amount of weapons China ...

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Well, here's another sign of China's rise: the Asian giant has replaced Britain as the world's fifth-largest weapons supplier, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

As SIPRI notes, this is the first time that Britain hasn't made the top five since the institute started the rankings in 1950. The amount of weapons China exported increased by 162 percent between 2003-2007 and 2008-2012, bumping its share of the global arms trade from 2 percent to 5 percent.

What's behind this spike in Chinese weapons sales? Pakistan's efforts to modernize its arsenal. Pakistan has been buying everything from JF-17 Thunder fighter jets to F-22P frigates, both of which are being jointly developed by Pakistan and China and are loaded with Chinese weapons.

Well, here’s another sign of China’s rise: the Asian giant has replaced Britain as the world’s fifth-largest weapons supplier, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

As SIPRI notes, this is the first time that Britain hasn’t made the top five since the institute started the rankings in 1950. The amount of weapons China exported increased by 162 percent between 2003-2007 and 2008-2012, bumping its share of the global arms trade from 2 percent to 5 percent.

What’s behind this spike in Chinese weapons sales? Pakistan’s efforts to modernize its arsenal. Pakistan has been buying everything from JF-17 Thunder fighter jets to F-22P frigates, both of which are being jointly developed by Pakistan and China and are loaded with Chinese weapons.

"China’s rise has been driven primarily by large-scale arms acquisitions by Pakistan," said Paul Holtom, Director of the SIPRI Arms Transfers Program in a press release. "However, a number of recent deals indicate that China is establishing itself as a significant arms supplier to a growing number of important recipient states."

Asia and the Pacific Rim have become the new hot spots for purveyors of heavy weapons. While European nations have dramatically reduced their weapons buys in the last 20 years, countries from the Middle East to the South China Sea are beefing up their militaries alongside their growing economies. 

"In the period 2008-12 Asia and Oceania accounted for almost half (47-percent) of global imports of major conventional weapons," reads SIPRI’s announcement.

The top-five weapons importers from 2008 through 2009 were all in South Asia and the Far East.

"The top five importers of major conventional weapons worldwide — India (12-percent of global imports), China (six-percent), Pakistan (five-percent), South Korea (five- percent), and Singapore (four-percent) — were all in Asia."

As expected, the United States and Russia take the top two exporter spots, supplying 30 percent and 26 percent of global weapons, respectively. Next up is Germany, supplying 7 percent of global weapons, followed by France, with 6 percent.

Here are some more interesting facts about the global arms trade between 2008 and 2012. Notice how arms sales to North African nations are way, way up.

§  Russia accounted for 71-percent of exports of major weapons to Syria in 2008-12 and continued to deliver arms and ammunition in 2012.

§  The Arab states of the Gulf accounted for seven-percent of world arms imports in 2008-2012. Missile defense systems were an important element in their latest arms acquisitions, with orders placed in 2011-12 for Patriot PAC-3 and THAAD systems from the USA.

§  Deliveries of weapons system to Venezuela as part of its ongoing rearmament program continued in 2012. Russia accounted for 66-percent of transfers to Venezuela, followed by Spain (12-percent) and China (12-percent).

§  Imports by North African states increased by 350-percent between 2003-2007 and 2008-12, which was almost entirely responsible for a doubling (by 104-percent) in imports by Africa as a whole.

§  Sub-Saharan imports increased by just five-percent. Most countries in sub-Saharan Africa imported only small numbers of major weapons, but many of these have been used in internal conflicts or in interventions in conflicts in neighboring states, most recently in Mali. 

§  Greece’s arms imports fell by 61-percent between 2003-2007 and 2008-12, pushing it from the number four importer to number 15. In 2006-10 Greece was the top recipient of German arms exports and the third largest recipient of French arms exports. 

John Reed is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He comes to FP after editing Military.com’s publication Defense Tech and working as the associate editor of DoDBuzz. Between 2007 and 2010, he covered major trends in military aviation and the defense industry around the world for Defense News and Inside the Air Force. Before moving to Washington in August 2007, Reed worked in corporate sales and business development for a Swedish IT firm, The Meltwater Group in Mountain View CA, and Philadelphia, PA. Prior to that, he worked as a reporter at the Tracy Press and the Scotts Valley Press-Banner newspapers in California. His first story as a professional reporter involved chasing escaped emus around California’s central valley with Mexican cowboys armed with lassos and local police armed with shotguns. Luckily for the giant birds, the cowboys caught them first and the emus were ok. A New England native, Reed graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a dual degree in international affairs and history.

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