Arms trade growing rapidly in Asia and won’t stop anytime soon
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Arms trade growing rapidly in Asia and won’t stop anytime soon

IMPORTS and exports of weapons have grown over the past two decades and show no signs of slowing down in the near future, according to data released by a Swedish non-profit this week.

Updated data on international weapons transfers from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) shows that the flow of arms to Asia and Oceania increased between 2008-12 and 2013-17.

The region represented almost half (42 percent) of all global arms imports during the latter period.

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Globally, international transfers of major weapons increased by 10 percent between 2008-12 and 2013-17, in what SIPRI said is a continuation of an upward trend that began in the early 2000s.

Factors driving growth in the Asian weapons trade include the rise of China as a superpower, anxiety in East Asia over North Korea’s nuclearisation, territorial conflicts like that in the South China Sea, and the decades’ old tensions between India and Pakistan.


South Korean marines participate in an amphibious assault exercise as part of the “Cobra Gold 2018” (CG18) joint military exercise at a military base in Chonburi province, Thailand, February 16, 2018. Source: Athit Perawongmetha / Reuters

“The world isn’t a safe place and it hasn’t become any safer. Particularly the Middle East and Asia – two regions where there are lots of tension and conflict,” Siemon T. Wezeman, Senior Researcher in the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure Programme told Asian Correspondent over the phone from Sweden.

SIPRI data shows that India is the world’s largest arms importer, accounting for 12 percent of the global total. Tensions with neighbouring Pakistan are a “continuous driver for imports for both of them”, said Wezeman.

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“They’re basically shooting at each other every other week,” he said. Nevertheless, Pakistan’s arms imports decreased by 36 percent between 2008-12 and 2013-17, likely because of the breakdown of its alliance with the US.

“Based on deals signed during the Obama administration, US arms deliveries in 2013–17 reached their highest level since the late 1990s,” said Dr Aude Fleurant, Director of the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure Programme.


Filipino army chaplain sprinkles holy water to bless the ScanEagle Unmanned Aerial Vehicles during a transfer from the US to the Philippine Air Force at the Villamor Air Base in Pasay city, Metro Manila, Philippines March 13, 2018. Source: Reuters/Romeo Ranoco

“These deals and further major contracts signed in 2017 will ensure that the USA remains the largest arms exporter in the coming years.”

Nevertheless, China’s regional clout is growing. Asia and Oceania accounted for around a third of US arms exports compared to a whopping 72 percent of Chinese weapons transfers. Along with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE, China was also one of the five largest importers of weapons in the world.

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“China’s military spending and its force modernisation is definitely something that is coming on in the coming years,” said Wezeman. “There are no real solutions in sight to the issues it has with neighbouring countries.”

With its military accused of ethnic cleansing, SIPRI data showed that some 68 percent of arms imports to Burma (Myanmar) came from China, followed by Russia with 15 percent. The US and European Union have imposed respective weapons embargoes against Burma since the 1980s.

“The increased flow of arms raises concerns over their impact on international peace and security,” said Ambassador Jan Eliasson, Chair of the SIPRI Governing Board. “It stresses the need to improve and implement international mechanisms such as the Arms Trade Treaty.”