China's lack of transparency about the country's arms production and sales has been extensive - until now.

Therefore, Sipris's annual top 100 list, which is a ranking of the world's 100 largest arms manufacturers and military service companies, has not been able to include Chinese weapons companies.

China is now on the list for the first time. The study shows that China is probably the world's next largest arms manufacturer after the United States. Then the figures are probably an underestimate, says Sipri.

- We are careful. The numbers may be higher, says the researcher Dr. Nan Tian on Sipri.

More than 30 years after the massacre at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China showed off its new advanced superfine robots Dongfeng-17. China was first in the world with this kind of weapon system, according to US Defense News. Photo: AP, Ng Han Guan

The researchers have produced and analyzed information between the years 2015 and 2017 on the value of the largest Chinese arms manufacturers' sales. The analysis was made on four Chinese companies that provided access to, what Sipri believes is, credible financial information.

The arms companies —AVIC, NORINCO, CSGC and CETC — encompass three sectors in conventional weapons production: the aerospace industry, electronics, and land-based weapons systems. Nuclear weapons are not included in the investigation.

According to Nan Tian, ​​95 percent of what is produced is sold to China's military.

- The rest is bought by allied countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Algeria, Tanzania, Uganda and the United Arab Emirates, he says.

Secret nuclear weapons

It is the increased availability of data on the four companies that makes it easier to make reliable estimates. While there is extensive privacy around companies that research and manufacture nuclear weapons.

- China manufactures nuclear weapons. It's very secret. There is no information on the two companies.

Unlike most of the world's major arms manufacturers, the Chinese weapons companies specialize primarily in one industry - aircraft and avionics.

China showed several new types of drones in Tiananmen Square when the Communist Party celebrated 70 years in power on October 1, 2019. Photo: AP, Mark Schiefelbein

Another of China's new drones at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, October 1, 2019. Photo: AP, Mark Schiefelbein

"The gap to the US is shrinking"

Four of the largest Chinese companies are ranked among the world's 20 largest arms manufacturers in 2017.

"China is still far behind the US, but we expect the gap to shrink," Dr. Nan Tian.

- China's arms companies will grow and produce more weapons because of the modernization programs going on until 2035 and 2049. These are long-term weapons modernization plans that they manufacture.

No Russian arms company is among the top ten on Sipri's top list.

Soldiers in China's "liberation army" march on Tiananmen's train in Beijing on October 1, 2019. Photo: AP, Mark Schiefelbein