de Soysa, Indra and Paul Midford. (2012) Enter The Dragon! An Empirical Analysis of Chinese versus US Arms Transfers to Autocrats and Violators of Human Rights, 1989–2006. International Studies Quarterly, doi: 10.1111/isqu.12028
© 2012 International Studies Association
The rise of China has led to a spate of scholarly and journalistic speculation about the future of a liberal world order. Apparently, the rise of a nondemocratic, Asian rival to US hegemony potentially undermines the growth of democracy throughout the system. Many see a resource-hungry China engaging itself globally out of purely self-interested motives, and Chinese business and aid offer a viable alternative to Western influence. Using the Stockholm Institute for Peace Research’s (SIPRI) data on arms transfers since the end of the Cold War, we test the proposition empirically by assessing the nature and strength of Chinese politico-military support, measured as conventional arms transfers, globally and to African regimes. In short, we find that China relative to the United States transfers greater amounts of arms to democracies rather than autocracies, whereas the United States seems to prefer more autocratic regimes, despite rhetoric that claims an ethical foreign policy. The same result holds when we assess this relationship using human rights data. Moreover, Chinese arms transfers to countries suffering civil wars are much lower than the United States’. The findings are robust to the inclusion of several control variables and alternative estimation techniques. The findings show that popular perceptions about China’s role in Africa do not match reality, particularly when assessed against the current hegemon’s behavior.