Chinese Arms Transfers: Purposes, Patterns, and Prospects in the New World Order

By R. Bates Gill | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
PRC Security and Its Growing Arms Trade, 1949-1979

Over most of the postwar period, PRC arms transfers were not viewed as being important enough by the press, by policy makers, or by the academic community to warrant more than passing interest. Only recently have Chinese arms transfers been studied in earnest. Two major reasons we could cite for this include the overwhelming dominance of superpower nuclear arsenals in arms control discussions during most of the postwar era and the relatively low level, until the 1980s, of Chinese major weapons exports. But in the late 1980s, numerous reports and scholarly works began to direct our attention to the issue of China and the arms trade.

Yet, the Chinese have been active in the arms trade since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, and well before that. As early as the sixteenth century, China traded in armaments with Portuguese merchants who plied the coast of Cathay. Both under dynastic rule prior to this century, and during the Nationalist period in an earlier part of this century, the Chinese armaments industry and weapons trade were wellestablished. 1 Both sides of the Chinese civil war in the 1930s and 1940s engaged heavily in the weapons market to further their causes on the battlefield. In the 1950s and 1960s, the PRC was particularly active in supporting revolutionary governments and insurgency movements in lessdeveloped countries. Since the 1970s, China has been a provider of major conventional weapons, as well as other military-related exports, to numerous and diverse global players. But, the burgeoning role of China as an arms supplier did not become readily apparent to observers of the arms trade scene until the Iran-Iraq War, when China acted as a major supplier

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