The New York Times is running a story about the rise of China's global arms sales. They were prompted by China's large deal with Turkey, a NATO member. Yes, Chinese sales are up, to around $2.2B per year, and they're gradually moving up the value-added chain to sell more sophisticated stuff. It's a story that sounds similar to the civilian sector, where extensive state support puts China in a position to undercut the US and other advanced economies. And given that the most recent sales are to a NATO member, this could force a wedge into the alliance.
Yes, all true, but the Times has ignored what the real public interest is in Chinese arms sales, and in fact, with arms sales in general. The real problem is not about growing Chinese competition; the real worry we all need to pay attention to and get control of is how large the global arms business is in the first place. This $72B industry fuels wars and destruction, and is destabilizing.
The most alarming part of the story is not China's rising market share, but that the Chinese see that arms exports and selling more advanced products are, as one Chinese observer put it in the story, a "very normal phenomenon." The US has socialized China to see the arms business as something every great power should be involved in, not to mention that it can be quite lucrative. From a public-interest perspective, that is not the lesson we should be teaching China. And it will come back to haunt us, in additional conflicts and in conflictings lasting longer than they should.
This socialization process has occurred across the spectrum, and includes "teaching" China about the global rules of international trade, protecting the environment, regulating financial markets, and many other areas. Although many areas of this "education" are positive and commendable, others are downright dangerous and against the public interest. This includes the global antidumping regime, weak regulation of financial markets, inadequate controls on pollution, and other areas. Weapons are not any ordinary product; their sales need to be controlled and made far more transparent than is now the case. For another area where the US trade policy has run amok, look at the Obama administration's advocacy for reducing countries' abilities to limit tobacco sales.
By the way, as the Times reports, the US controls 39% of the global arms market, or $29B per year, still far higher than any other country. So don't cry me a river that they're suffering at the hands of the Chinese.
If this were a story about the domestic US weapons market (or cigarettes), you can be darn sure the Times wouldn't have fallen for this. They wouldn't ever write a sympathetic story -- and put it on the front page -- reporting that a major gun manufacturer such as Smith & Wesson is facing an unexpected challenge from a new up-and-coming handgun producer, and that such a trend is threatening to the incumbents. That kind of story would sound like something pushed by the National Rifle Association (NRA) or be reported in a bland way by Fox News, not the Times.
The Times has unwittingly become an advocate for the US defense industry, the gun lobby, and the global arms market in general. We should all recognize this and be appalled.