China’s exports of major arms soared 88 percent between 2006 and 2015, and the country is now behind only the U.S. and Russia when it comes to exporting weapons around the globe, according to a new report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
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China isn’t the only nation that has seen a boost in arms sales. Weapons exports also increased for the U.S., Russia and Britain, the report states.
The study comes at a time when Beijing is trying to reduce its historical reliance on military hardware from other countries, most notably Russia, and move toward producing its own weapons systems.
"China is increasingly capable of producing its own advanced weapons and has become less dependent on arms imports," said SIPRI.
China sees domestic arms production as a top priority, and has been willing to cut corners to make rapid advances. For example, Chinese hackers are suspected of stealing the blueprints to Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in 2009 to create the foundation for its next-generation stealth fighter jet, the J-20, which recently entered into production.
The new study found that China's biggest customers for its weapons between 2011 and 2015 are in the Asia-Pacific region: Pakistan spent $2.9 billion on Chinese arms, Bangladesh spent $1.6 billion and Myanmar come in third with $1.3 billion.
"All three states are neighbors of India, the leading importer of arms in the region," the report noted.
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China’s expanding military capacities are creating tensions in the Asia-Pacific region, especially in the South China Sea, where Beijing is embroiled in a number of territorial disputes.
China has begun deploying some of its most advanced weaponry in the region, including sending batteries of its HQ-9 surface-to-air missile system to Woody Island in the disputed Paracel Islands chain earlier this month, and now it appears the country’s J-11 warplanes have arrived in the archipelago as well.
Analysts expect China to continue to expand its share of the global arms market for years to come.