China Become a Major Exporter in Arms Trade

Decades of economic growth coupled with its ongoing military modernization have enabled China to become as a major exporter in the global arms trade. Chinese weaponry is becoming increasingly attractive due in part to its cost-effectiveness. According to the CSIS ChinaPower, between 2008 and 2017, China exported some $14.4 billion worth of conventional weapons across the globe, making it the 5th largest arms supplier in the world – behind the United States, Russia, France, and Germany. China has emerged as a leader in the global arms trade.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), China’s conventional arms sales surged from $650 million in 2008 to $1.13 billion in 2017.1 The lion’s share of these exports, around 74 percent, went to Asia. An additional 21 percent flowed into Africa. Although China has established itself as an arms export leader, the overall value of its trade still pales in comparison to the United States, whose exports averaged $9 billion annually over the last ten years.

Most of Beijing’s arms exports are sold to countries close to home. A combined 62.4 percent of China’s conventional weapons sales since 2008 have found their way to Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Myanmar. Other Asian countries have purchased an additional 11.8 percent of Chinese arms. Close military ties have paved the way for China to supply Pakistan with more arms than any other country.

Northern African countries are the primary destination of Chinese weapons, constituting 42 percent of Chinese exports to the continent. An additional 29 percent flows into to Eastern Africa, and the remaining 29 percent are divided between other African states. According to the report by Department of Defence, Chinese arms are less expensive than those offered by the top international arms suppliers. They are also of lower quality and reliability, but they still have advanced capabilities. Chinese arms also come with fewer political strings attached, which is attractive to those customers who may not have access to weapons from Western countries for political reasons.

To learn more about Chinese arms exports visit chinapower.csis.org.