Exports upgraded to advanced weapons: experts
China has become a larger player in the global arms industry in recent years and exports have been shifting from low-end weapons to increasingly advanced ones, though the country applies strict rules to arms exports, experts said on Sunday.
Chinese arms sales have been surging in the past five years, according to an article published in U.S. magazine the National Interest on September 27. During the period, the country's exports accounted for 6.2 percent of the global weapons trade, an increase of 74 percent compared to 2007-11, the article noted.
In addition, China's weapons exports have moved ahead of those from countries such as Germany, France and the UK, and it is now the world's third-largest arms exporter, according to the article.
Pakistan, one of the main destinations for China's arms exports, said on Saturday that the country's navy has signed contracts to acquire an undisclosed number of frigates from China and is also planning to buy eight submarines from China, the Dawn reported, citing former naval chief Muhammad Zakaullah.
This comes as no surprise, given China's growing capabilities in research and development (R&D) as well as production of advanced weapons, Li Jie, a naval military expert, told the Global Times on Sunday.
"The days when China lagged behind other countries in weapons design and technology are over. Now we have independent R&D systems and are even ahead of other countries in some major areas such as submarines and aircraft," he said, pointing to the new fighter jet, the J-20.
The J-20, a stealth fighter jet independently developed by China, has been officially commissioned into military service, Wu Qian, spokesperson for the Ministry of National Defense (MOD), was quoted as saying in a report by the Xinhua News Agency on September 28. The aircraft is the country's fourth-generation medium and long-range fighter jet.
More advanced exports
At the same time as China's rising capability in weapons development, there has been a shift in arms exports.
China's exports in recent years have shifted from low-end weapons to more advanced items, such as modern tanks, submarines and unmanned aerial vehicles, Song Zhongping, a Beijing-based military expert, told the Global Times on Sunday.
"Also, China usually exports weapons to countries without strings attached, and it has adopted flexible payment arrangements such as loans, which makes the purchase of weapons easier for some countries," he noted.
China exports weapons to 55 countries worldwide, covering Asia, the Middle East and Latin America, and many of its clients are developing countries.
Although China's share of the industry has risen rapidly in the past few years, the U.S. is still the largest global arms exporter, accounting for one-third of total exports, according to a report released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in February. The U.S. supplies arms to at least 100 countries around the world, and half of its exports are to the Middle East, the report noted.
"Compared to U.S. military equipment, China's exports have advantages not only in price but also in after-sales service," Song said, noting that the country provides technology support and consultancy when selling weapons to other countries.
China also has "a better reputation in arms sales," said Li, the expert. "For example, the U.S. previously sold F-16 fighter jets to India, which are outdated and overpriced," he added.
Also, China has further enhanced its competitiveness in the area of advanced weapons, according to Li. "The submarines sold to Pakistan are a good example, as is our self-designed, air-independent propulsion system," he said.
Some of China's advanced weapons have shown better-than-expected performance on the global stage compared to ones from major exporters such as the U.S. and Russia. "For instance, China's J-10 aircraft won't be weaker than its U.S. counterpart the F-16… Also the country's Hongqi missile defense system has capabilities equivalent to the U.S. Patriot missiles," Song said.
However, the U.S. and Russia have accumulated more real-time battle experience, particularly in the Middle East, according to experts.
"A major difference is that China exports weapons to maintain regional peace, but the U.S. is fuelling instability," Li noted.
China exports weapons based on three principals - to help enhance the client's legitimate self-defense capability, not to jeopardize regional and global peace and stability, and not to intervene in the client's internal politics - the MOD spokesman was quoted as saying in media reports on September 28.
On top of that, China's weapons exports are in line with UN regulations, and are legal and responsible, the spokesman said.