The largest buyer of Chinese weapons was Pakistan, which accounted for 55 percent of the country's exports, followed by Myanmar with 8 percent and Bangladesh with 7 percent, SIPRI said.
"China's rise has been driven primarily by large-scale arms acquisitions by Pakistan," said Paul Holtom, director of the SIPRI Arms Transfers Programme. "However, a number of recent deals indicate that China is establishing itself as a significant arms supplier to a growing number of important recipient states."
Such deals include the sale of three frigates to Algeria, eight transport aircraft to Venezuela and 54 tanks to Morocco, SIPRI said.
The U.S. remains the world's top arms exporter during the 2008-2012 period, with 30 percent of the global volume. Russia is second with 26 percent, Germany third with 7 percent, and France fourth with 6 percent, SIPRI said.
China's move into the top-five means Britain (now in sixth place) dropped off the list of the top five for the first time since at least 1950, the earliest year covered by SIPRI data.
The institute said Asia dominated the global imports of weapons, with the top five importers all located in that region.
Here's SIPRI's list of the top 5 arms exporters in 2008-2012 (share of international exports in parenthesis):
1. United States (30 percent).
2. Russia (26).
3. Germany (7).
4. France (6).
5. China (5).
The top 5 arms importers in 2008-2012 (share of international imports in parenthesis):
1. India (12 percent).
2. China (6).
3. Pakistan (5).
4. South Korea (5).
5. Singapore (4).
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.