China’s growing military clout is threatening the global status quo—and not just because of the strength of its army. According to new data (pdf) from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), China is now the world’s fourth-top arms exporter in terms of sales, ahead of France and the United Kingdom and behind only America, Russia, and Germany. In 2012, China joined the world’s top five (paywall) arms exporters for the first time, overtaking the UK.
As we’ve noted, China’s military may not be as strong as Beijing’s defense budget would suggest. But selling weapons across Asia and elsewhere is one way for Beijing to expand its international influence. China accounts for a small percentage of global arms sales—about 6%—but its sales are growing much faster than those of other major exporters.
As a major arms exporter, China is also starting to compete with traditional sellers like the US and Russia, especially as Beijing moves beyond producing small arms to making equipment like aircraft or warships. Last year, Turkey bought China’s surface-to-air missile system over American, Russian and European versions. China now sells to about 35 countries, mainly low and middle-income countries, according to the SIPRI report. (The US sells to 90.)