New research shows Pakistan's growing purchases of Chinese military hardware have helped Beijing become the world's fifth biggest exporter of conventional arms, overtaking Britain.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute
says Pakistan bought 55 percent of China's weapons exports in the years 2008 to 2012. Pakistan and China are longtime allies.
A Pakistani defense analyst says Islamabad's main purchases include Chinese tanks, fighter jets, patrol boats, guns, radars and other communications equipment.
In an interview with VOA, retired Pakistani general Talat Masoud says Islamabad uses Chinese technology to develop home-made weapons with the goal of becoming more self-sufficient. He says it is harder for Pakistan to secure such technology transfers from American and European sources.
"China is a more reliable partner at times of crisis because [Pakistan's] experience is that whenever there has been an escalation of tension with India, or there has been a crisis or a confrontation, the United States and European sources have sanctioned [Pakistani] weapons systems or suspended the transfer of equipment, even if the [Pakistani] contracts were there," said Masoud.
Masoud says Pakistan also has an interest in developing closer bonds with China because both nations perceive their neighbor India as a regional rival.
In its report published Monday, SIPRI says Chinese military exports in 2008 to 2012 jumped 162 percent compared with the previous five-year period. But it says China's share of the global weapons export market is relatively small, at 5 percent.
The United States and Russia remain the world's biggest military exporters, with market shares of 30 percent and 26 percent respectively, followed by Germany with 7 percent and France with 6 percent. But China's rise to fifth place marks the first change in the top five ranking in 20 years.
SIPRI says 8 percent of Chinese arms sales in the latest period went to Burma, another Chinese ally whose government has been fighting an ethnic Kachin rebel insurgency since 2011.
Burma buys Chinese hardware such as training aircraft and anti-ship missiles, but still relies on Russia as its main weapons supplier. The Burmese government has been under a Western arms embargo since its military predecessor crushed a pro-democracy uprising in 1988.
SIPRI arms transfer expert Mark Bromley told VOA that Beijing also is expanding weapons sales to new Chinese markets such as Algeria, Morocco and Venezuela. But he said China faces several obstacles to challenging the dominance of the world's top two military exporters.
"Unlike some of the other big exporters like Russia and the United States, China is very heavily dependent upon one buyer for a large proportion of its exports," said Bromley. "[Also,] there are certain key technologies, particularly aircraft engines, which China has not mastered to the extent of other countries in the top five. It is still reliant particularly on Russian technology in certain key areas. And the other thing to bear in mind is that certain big export markets, particularly India, are obviously closed to China because of [the situation of] China-India relations."
Bromley says China also is subject to U.S. and EU arms embargoes that limit its technological capabilities.
Beijing has been ramping up its military spending as it takes a more assertive stance toward maritime disputes with its Asian neighbors. SIPRI says China is the world's number-two importer of weapons behind India.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei responded to SIPRI's report by saying Beijing "always takes a responsible and cautious attitude toward arms exports" and follows three principles for such transfers. He said Chinese weapons sales must be justified by the recipient nation's self-defense needs, must not damage peace and security, and must not interfere in other countries' internal affairs.
Beijing does not release arms export figures. SIPRI said its study of global weapons transfers uses data from official sources and media reports.
Kyaw Thein Kha of VOA's Burmese service and Iftikhar Hussain of VOA's Deewa service contributed to this report.