China has become the world’s fifth largest weapons exporter on the back of a rapid increase in sales to Pakistan, according to a new study released on Monday.

China, accounting for five per cent of global arms sales, replaced Britain in the exclusive club of five biggest weapons sellers, said a report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri).

An increase in supplies to Pakistan, which now account for more than half of China’s arms exports, and a booming domestic arms manufacturing sector have enabled China’s rise as a global weapons player, analysts say.

The United States is the biggest exporter, accounting for 30 per cent of global exports. Russia with 26 per cent, Germany with seven per cent and France with six per cent exceed China’s sales.

China’s fast-rising defence budget, which has shown double-digit growth over the past decade and rose a further 10.7 per cent this year to $116.15 billion — more than three times India’s outlay — also enabled the expansion.

India, in contrast, remains the biggest importer, accounting for 12 per cent of the world’s imports and continuing to rely on countries such as Russia for its defence needs. China is the second biggest importer, even with its domestic industry that supplies the People’s Liberation Army, accounting for six per cent.

Asked if the rise in weapons exports would raise concerns in the region, Chinese officials on Monday only said “all arms sales must adhere strictly to domestic laws, U.N. guidelines and international rules”. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said all arms sales had to be “justified by legitimate needs of the recipient” and “not harm peace, security and stability” in the region. “China always takes a responsible and cautious attitude toward arms exports,” Mr. Hong said.

For India, however, China’s rising sales to Pakistan are likely to be a source of anxiety. For Pakistan, buying from China is cheaper than buying from the U.S. and Europe. While the Pakistani Army has been securing the bulk of its weapons from China, now the Air Force and Navy are also turning to Chinese weaponry.

“China exports almost 70 per cent of its weapons to the Indian neighbourhood,” said strategic analyst Manoj Joshi. “Pakistan accounts for 55 per cent, Bangladesh and Myanmar about 13 per cent and Sri Lanka two per cent. It does seem to be India-centric”.

Mr. Joshi said China adopted “a dual approach”. “Earlier it treated arms transfers as an extension of its political approach. Now it is also seen as an economic proposition, and this trade does not account for WMDs and Ballistic Missiles given to Pakistan”.

There are signs that the relationship is expanding. China could provide Pakistan with submarine launched cruise missiles, without nuclear weapons capability. “When you ask the Chinese,” Mr. Joshi said, “they say, ‘We are doing with Pakistan what you are doing with Russia.’”

(With inputs from Sandeep Dikshit New Delhi and Anita Joshua Islamabad)

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