in the 1990s, China is pushing exports of home-grown equipment to expand its influence in areas like Africa where it is busy buying land and forging new allies.
The Chinese used to simply produce cheap knockoffs of their basic Russian equipment. They have made very considerable advances, but still have problems, particularly with engines, said Simon Wezeman, senior researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
On some technology, they are now competitive on technology with European arms exports and very competitive on price.
China has sold defence systems and co-developed a derivative of a Russian fighter with Pakistan and done smaller deals with African countries. There is also interest from Latin America.
Western analysts say China has a reputation for selling basic but reliable equipment with relatively few questions asked about its use, a key selling point.
But the range of products on display in Zhuhai is both increasing and gradually moving up in value, while remaining a decade or two behind the most advanced U.S. equipment.
For the first time at Zhuhai, China showed an export version of a long-range surface-to-air missile, the truck-mounted FD-2000, and a Predator-style UAV called the Wing Loong.
There was also a focus on systems that build relationships such as the L-15 trainer, which won its first export deal to an unidentified country at the show.
Admittedly, China's other reputation for copying what it cannot make is unlikely to disappear any time soon.
A parlour game among delegates is to tick off the similarities between Chinese systems and foreign platforms.
When you come and see these aircraft you relate them to what you have seen before. The K-8 is a Hawk, the J-10 a Eurofighter, the L-15 an Aermacchi M-346, said an officer with an African air force delegation, asking not to be identified.
That is why some people don't want to send their planes here. You come back in five years and it's called a J-something.
Organisers said a record 650 companies from 38 countries showed up to present exhibits at the ninth Zhuhai show.
A few yards and a