LONDON – China is beginning to export its homemade weapons, including armed drones, worldwide and is reaching “near-parity” with the West in military technology, according to a report released on Tuesday.
The International Institute for Strategic Studies said that China’s official defense budget of $145 billion last year was 1.8 times higher than those of South Korea and Japan combined.
It also accounted for more than a third of Asia’s total military spending in 2016, said the IISS annual Military Balance report, adding that spending in Asia grew by 5 to 6 percentage points a year between 2012 and 2016.
Total global military spending fell by 0.4 percent in real terms from 2015 to 2016, largely due to reductions in the Middle East.
“China’s military progress highlights that Western dominance in the field of advanced weapons systems can no longer be taken for granted,” IISS director John Chipman said at a presentation in London. “An emerging threat for deployed Western forces is that with China looking to sell more abroad, they may confront more advanced military systems in more places, and operated by a broader range of adversaries.”
The report found that in terms of air power, “China appears to be reaching near-parity with the West.
It said one of China’s air-to-air missiles had no Western equivalent and that China had introduced a type of short-range missile that “only a handful of leading aerospace nations are able to develop.”
It said China is also developing “what could be the world’s longest-range air-to-air missile.”
The report noted that Chinese military exports to Africa last year “were moving from the sale of Soviet-era designs to the export of systems designed in China.”
It said that Chinese-made armed drones had been seen in Nigeria and Saudi Arabia.
The report also noted that European states are “only gradually” increasing their defense spending.
“While Europe was one of the three regions in the world where defense spending rose in 2015-16, European defense spending remains modest as a proportion of the continent’s GDP,” the study said.
In 2016, IISS found that only two European NATO states — Greece and Estonia — met the aim of spending 2.0 percent of their GDP on defense.
This was down from four European states that met the target in 2015: Britain, Greece, Estonia and Poland.
Britain’s spending dipped to 1.98 percent of GDP, according to IISS calculations, although that figure was immediately disputed by Britain’s defense ministry.
But the IISS said it is more important that countries focus on upgrading their military equipment. “This is made more urgent because of the degree to which Western states have reduced their equipment and personnel numbers since the Cold War,” it said.