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

By R. Bates Gill | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
PRC Arms Transfers to the Middle East: The Economic Motive and Beyond

A number of observers have commented on the cynical PRC policy of supplying both sides of the Iran-Iraq War. Such observations were usually accompanied by the assumption that China could only have been motivated by profit, for there could be no political or strategic advantage to supporting both sides of a war. This latter assumption is debatable and demands examination. However, one point is certain: the PRC did make a hefty profit in its arms relationship with Iran and Iraq when compared to its previous activities as an arms exporter. Over the course of the 1980s, it is believed China earned over US$8 billion in its combined exports to Iran and Iraq, or nearly three-quarters of PRC arms transfers in those years. 1 China sent a massive amount of weaponry to Iran and Iraq: hundreds of aircraft, several thousand tanks, APCs, and artillery pieces, and antitank, antiship, and antiaircraft missiles, in addition to other military-related transfers such as advisers, training, equipment, and ammunition. Even after the Iran-Iraq cease-fire went into effect in 1988, China continued to supply the two countries as arms clients. New agreements were reported between China and Iran for Hai Ying-2 (Silkworm) launchers and antiship missiles, for HQ-2B surface-to-air launchers and missiles, and even for the cooperative use of a Chinese reconnaissance satellite. 2 However, with the cease-fire of 1988, Chinese arms exports to Iran and Iraq slowed considerably, which in large measure accounted for the downturn in PRC arms exports from their peak in 1988 -- when China was the number one supplier of arms to Iran and the number three supplier of

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