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China's Share of Global Arms Imports Falls, Sipri Says

China Buys Fewer Weapons as Local Industry Expands
Bayi Aerobatics Team of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force show China's J-10 jet fighters during an air show for the Changchun First Aviation Open Day in Changchun, in northeast Chinas Jilin province. Photograph: STR/AFP/Getty Images

China, the world’s top weapons importer for much of the past decade, fell to fourth from second on an annual list from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute as it produces more arms at home.

China received 5 percent of the volume of international transfers of “major conventional weapons” from 2007 to 2011, Sipri said in a report released today. The total was half that of India, which last year overtook China as the world’s largest recipient of arms, and less than South Korea and Pakistan.

“In certain sectors such as combat aircraft, with the exception of certain parts like engines, China is able to put together these systems largely from their own indigenous base now,” Paul Holtom, director of Sipri’s arms transfer program, said by phone. “India is still struggling there.”

China is set to increase military spending 11 percent this year as rising economic interests, territorial disputes and expanding global commitments drive demand for warships, missiles and fighter jets. Defense outlays of more than $100 billion per year are second only to the U.S., which along with Europe has maintained an arms embargo against the leadership in Beijing since a 1989 crackdown against protesters.

The volume of worldwide arms transfers in 2007-2011 was 24 percent higher than in 2002-2006, the report said. The Asia-Pacific region led the world, accounting for 44 percent of arms imports. It was followed by Europe at 19 percent, the Middle East at 17 percent and the Americas at 11 percent.

China Exports Double

China’s arms exports nearly doubled in 2007 to 2011 from five years earlier, Sipri said, making it the world’s sixth biggest supplier after the United Kingdom. About two-thirds of China’s weapons were sold to neighboring Pakistan, it said, including 50 JF-17 combat aircraft, 203 tanks and three warships.

Asia-Pacific spending on fighters, missiles and other equipment is set to grow an average 4.2 percent annually to $114 billion in 2016, according to Frost & Sullivan. China’s defense budget alone may rise 14 percent each year through 2015, according to Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

India last week said it will increase defense spending by 13 percent next year to 1.93 trillion rupees ($38.4 billion) as it seeks to counter China’s buildup.

India’s purchases range from naval to aircraft to ground forces, Holtom said, including Russian-made 120 Su-30MK and 16 MiG-29K fighter jets. Paris-based Dassault Aviation SA is in final talks on a contract to supply at least 126 Rafale combat planes to India to clinch the first-ever export deal for the jet, Chief Executive Officer Charles Edelstenne said March 9.

‘Status Element’

Brazil and South Africa are also stepping up weapons purchases, reflecting the emergence of middle-income powers on the global stage, Holtom said. Brazil’s orders of 4 Scorpène class submarines, a nuclear-powered submarine, and 50 transport helicopters will contribute to a “dramatic increase” in imports in the coming years, Sipri said.

“There is a status element there as well as an ability to project power over distance,” Holtom said. “The emerging powers desire to be seen having the equipment of a power, and in some of those cases it’s upgrading and modernizing from Cold War-era equipment.”

The U.S. remains the world’s largest exporter of military equipment, accounting for 30 percent of arms deliveries between 2007 and 2011, followed by Russia at 24 percent, the report said. The Pentagon is asking for $613.9 billion next year, which also includes $88.5 billion in supplemental spending for wars.

Stockholm-based Sipri, founded in 1966, conducts research into conflict, armaments, arms control and disarmament, according to its website. A substantial part of its funding comes from the Swedish government, it said.

The institute says it measures the volume of arms moved around the world using an index that is “based on the known unit production costs of a core set of weapons and is intended to represent the transfer of military resources rather than the financial value of the transfer.”

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