A newly released report says China has been importing a smaller volume of conventional arms in recent years. The trend comes as concerns grow that Beijing is working on further developing its own indigenous weapons industry and capabilities. The information is included in a new Stockholm International Peace Research Institute report that looks at arms transfers around the world.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute analyzed data over a five-year period, to give an average that it considers more reliable than only looking at an individual year.
In the findings for the most recent period, from 2004 to 2008, China remained the top global recipient of conventional weapons, with 11-percent of the world's total.
SIPRI researcher Paul Holtom says the high point for Chinese weapons deliveries was 2006.
"That was when big ticket items such as combat aircraft, naval vessels, submarines, were being delivered and the last of the orders placed around the beginning of the millennium, 2001 to 2003," he said.
At the same time, Holtom points to what he describes as a "significant drop" in arms deliveries to China in 2007 and 2008.
He says one reason is that China has needed time to absorb the high volume of equipment it has already received from Russia, which he calls a near-monopoly supplier. He says another reason may be China's desire to rely more on making and developing its own arms and military technology.
China does not buy weapons from the United States and the European Union because of arms embargoes imposed following Beijing's bloody crackdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Holtom says China's efforts to develop its own weapons is causing wariness in Russia, which has so far been unwilling to sell China just a small number of combat aircraft that can be used on an aircraft carrier.
"Playing into that is concerns in Russia that when they deliver a small number of items, China is sort of reverse-engineering and seeking to use that as a means to develop its own copies," Holtom said.
Increasing sales of Chinese arms worldwide could be another reason Beijing is looking to build up its own weapons industry.
SIPRI's data from the 1980's showed China ranked as the fifth largest arms supplier in the world. Holtom says despite anticipation that China would emerge as a major global arms supplier, the country dropped to twelfth in the latest period.
"At present, what China is offering is not going to be attractive to most of the big buyers," he said. "If you look at its markets - and it's Bangladesh, they are other poorer nations in Asia or Africa."
Holtom says China's customers include oil-rich countries like Sudan and Burma, which are shunned by a large part of the international community. He also points to another highly-publicized case last year, in which Chinese arms and ammunition were headed for Zimbabwe, shortly after a disputed election there.