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The meaning and impact of China’s increasing international arms sales, particularly to countries involved in their Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), has been analysed in a new report from LSE IDEAS (The London School of Economics’ foreign policy think tank, and no.1 ranked university affiliated think tank in the world).

The report looks specifically at the growing exports of Chinese Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs), particularly to BRI countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq and the UAE.

According to the report, growing sales of Chinese security and military goods should be looked at in context of President Xi Jinping’s goal to consolidate China’s position internationally, as well as an effort on the part of China to fill the void of arms sales left by alternative suppliers such as the United States.

The paper also suggests that rapid growth of Chinese UCAVs is starting to have an impact on battlefields in the Middle East and Africa, noting that previous reports have shown both the Nigerian, Egyptian and Saudi Arabian armed forces to have used Chinese weaponry.

According to the report, alongside other trade and investment from China into BRI nations, large scale exports of military goods could reflect a willingness in Beijing to foster and encourage defence and security cooperation along the BRI more generally.

Robert Whittle, China Foresight Project, LSE IDEAS, and co-author of the report, says:

“From analysing newly released arms transfer datasets from SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute), I am pleased that we were able to bring to light an evolving pattern of greater Chinese military hardware exports along the BRI. This Strategic Update presents a much-needed insight into how China intends to both modernise their domestic defence industries and expand security cooperation amongst BRI countries.”

Professor Chris Alden, Global South Unit, LSE IDEAS, and Professor in International Relations, LSE, says:

"China's aspirations and expressions of global leadership, including becoming a competitive commercial player in arms and technology, find its clearest expressions along circuitous Belt and Road Initiative. This study highlights this process through a close examination of the expansion of China's Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles - drones - across Asia, the Middle East and Africa."

Link to report:

For more information, or to speak to or receive a contribution from Robert Whittle Professor Chris Alden, please contact Jonny Stone at, or call 01582 790704.

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