More and more weapons go East as Asia-Pacific tops imports

The latest data on international arms transfers over the past five years come from Sweden-based SIPRI. India is the world's top importer, while the United States, for the first time in 25 years, is Asia’s largest supplier. Driving rearmament, experts explain, is the perception of a Chinese threat (which continues to boost its war production).

Stockholm (AsiaNews) - In the last five years, the flow of weapons to the East has increased.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has updated its database on arms import-export, finding that between 2019 and 2023, countries in Asia and Oceania took in 37 per cent of the world's arms imports, followed by the Middle East (30 per cent), Europe (21 per cent), the Americas (5.7 per cent), and Africa (4.3 per cent).

Although arms imports to Asia-Pacific fell by 12 per cent overall between 2014-18 and 2019-23 periods, mainly due to a sharp drop in imports from China, the region remains the highest arms importer, with six of the world's top ten largest importers: India, Pakistan, Japan, Australia, South Korea, and China.

SIPRI noted, however, that China’s imports dropped by 44 per cent in the last five years as it replaces imported weapons (mostly from Russia) with home-made systems.

Despite its current economic woes, Beijing has no intention of curbing military spending; on the contrary, it is expected to boost it by 7.2 per cent this year, the same as last year.

China’s defence budget was set at 1.665 trillion yuan (US$ 231 billion), the ninth consecutive annual increase.

Two of China's neighbours have boosted their imports: Japan by 155 per cent, and South Korea by 6.5 per cent. The latter also recorded a 12 per cent increase in exports, especially to Poland, the Philippines, and India.

“There is little doubt that the sustained high levels of arms imports by Japan and other US allies and partners in Asia and Oceania are largely driven by one key factor: concern over China’s ambitions,” said Siemon Wezeman, Senior Researcher with the SIPRI Arms Transfers Programme. “The USA, which shares their perception of a Chinese threat, is a growing supplier to the region.”

Indeed, for the first time in 25 years, the United States has become the largest supplier of arms to Asia-Pacific, with 34 per cent of regional imports, compared to 19 per cent for Russia and 13 per cent for China.

Taiwan’s imports have fallen by 69 per cent, but major deliveries are expected over the next five years, including 66 fighter jets, 108 tanks and 460 anti-ship missiles, all from the United States.

Tensions with China (and neighbouring Pakistan) are the reason why India saw a 4.7 per cent increase in imports compared to the 2014-18 period, making it the world's leading arms importer (9.8 per cent of total imports).

Russia continues to be India’s main supplier, but, for the first time since the 1960s, Russian supplies account for less than half of all transfers; while Russian imports represented 76 per cent in 2009-13, they had dropped to 58 per cent in 2014-18 and are now down to 36 per cent.

India has in fact diversified its procurement by turning to France and the United States and developing its own arms industry.

Pakistan's arms imports grew by 43 per cent in 2019-23 over 2014-18, thanks to stronger ties with China, which now accounts for 82 per cent of its weapons (compared to 69 per cent in 2014-18 and 51 per cent in 2009-13).

Southeast Asia reported a decline of 43 per cent in imports, but some states are rearming, above all, the Philippines, where arms imports have risen by 105 per cent, and Singapore, up by 17 per cent.

Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore have also placed major orders for combat ships and aircraft in 2019-23.

Weapons imported by Myanmar, used in its civil war, come from Russia (38 per cent), China (26 per cent), and India (18 per cent).