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What Are All These Chinese Guns Doing in the Middle East?

What Are All These Chinese Guns Doing in the Middle East?

Charlie Gao


China’s weaponry has a growing market share among rebels.

Key Point: In the future many areas of the world will be flooded with Chinese guns.

The Syrian Civil War is being fought with firearms from around the globe. While American and Russian weapons are currently the most common, Chinese guns are rapidly increasing their “market share” of the battlefield.

While China has taken a notionally neutral position on the war, Chinese arms ending up in the hands of rebels, IS, and regime forces. How are they getting there? Do they hold any advantages over their Russian and American counterparts?

Probably the most common Chinese weapon in the Middle East is the Type 56 rifle, a variant of the ubiquitous AK. Characterized by the full ring surrounding the front sight, the Type 56 was exported in great numbers to the Middle East during the 1970s and 1980s, arming both Iran and Iraq during the Iran-Iraq wars. This has caused it to pop up everywhere in the region. It’s been seen in the hands of Iraqi insurgents and forms the bulk of the Islamic State’s arsenal. Type 56 rifles are also common sights within the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian regime National Defense Force.

Type 56 rifles on the battlefield could come from anywhere, with both old stock being widespread and Norinco still manufacturing the rifle for export. They are common on international arms markets and often bought up by nations looking to arm groups with some level of deniability.

The W85 heavy machine gun is a more interesting case. In previous wars in the region, most common heavy machine guns used by insurgents were of Soviet design. However, in the Syrian Civil War the Chinese W85 has reached prominence, showing up in many photos and videos from all sides.

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