Interestingly, China is selling some non-trivial weapons like ballistic missiles to the "traditional US ally" Saudi Arabia.

Is it possible to know if China sells more weapons [e.g. in terms of value] to the Saudis than to Iran, in recent times? (I'm aware that publicly available sources may be sketchy, i.e. probably based on estimates.)

FWTW, I did manage to find some pretty ancient data:

China was a major arms supplier to both sides in the Iran-Iraq War for most of the 1980s, providing Tehran with just under half of the $7.5 billion of weaponry sold to both sides by the end of the decade.

But I'm interested in something more recent, let's say past one or two decades.

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    The Royal Saudi Strategic Missile Force was started with Chinese cooperation back in the 80s and has only ever operated Chinese missiles. I don't know about other exports or the amounts, though.
    – xyldke
    Mar 14, 2023 at 16:00

1 Answer 1


Saudi, but not by much. Roughly, 300 TIV units, whatever those are, vs 150 for Iran, 2010-2021. For comparison, Chinese sales are at 9000 during that period to Pakistan.

Source SIPRI arms trade database - very comprehensive, hard to quote however.

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Totals given:

Saudi Arabia 351

Iran 168

Pakistan 8954

Nigeria 469

I've added some other countries to provide some context. Neither country "weighs much" relative to China's arms exports.

Edit: Definition of a TIV from the SIPRI website

The TIV is based on the known unit production costs of a core set of weapons and is intended to represent the transfer of military resources rather than the financial value of the transfer. Weapons for which a production cost is not known are compared with core weapons based on: size and performance characteristics (weight, speed, range and payload); type of electronics, loading or unloading arrangements, engine, tracks or wheels, armament and materials; and the year in which the weapon was produced.

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    "whatever those are" : "SIPRI uses a unique pricing system, the trend-indicator value (TIV), to measure the volume of deliveries of major conventional weapons. The SIPRI TIV measures transfers of military capability rather than the financial value of arms transfers." Mar 14, 2023 at 21:06
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    Also "The SIPRI Arms Transfers Database does not include transfers of small arms, trucks, ammunition, support equipment, services or technology, and most light weapons and components." So China sold more "big ticket" military items to KSA (in the past decade). Mar 14, 2023 at 21:10
  • @Fizz I did get the general gist of the TIVs' intent. With grants, aids, offsets, barter and sundry it's difficult to pin down exact values. But that still leaves out whatever it actually works out to. Still, works well enough as a relative indicator. Wrt to what it leaves out... hard to tell but again I'll assume the relative weights may still represent overall trade levels. Oddest thing in the SIPRI database - 16 TIVs worth of Russia to USA sales in 2012 or so. Mar 14, 2023 at 21:54
  • Looking at the yearly data on SIPRI, the exports to Iran where all in 2010 to 2015 with nothing starting from 2016 whereas the exports to Saudi-Arabia only started in 2016 with nothing before.
    – quarague
    Mar 15, 2023 at 7:30

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