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World-wide military spending and the arms trade dropped in 1993 for the eighth straight year, with the United States remaining the biggest exporter of conventional arms, researchers reported.

But the world was no safer a place to live in last year, with the number of armed conflicts rising to 34 from 33 a year earlier, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute noted Thursday in its annual report.Growing riches nurtured ambitions in some countries - including China - for more regional power, it said.

China strengthened its armed forces for the fourth consecutive year in 1993, the institute said. It cited analysts who said China's ambition is to become so powerful that it can settle regional security issues on its own terms without concern for political pressure from Russia or the United States.

International arms dealers saw their market shrink to an estimated $22 billion last year, the report said. But it said the steep drop in sales since 1987, when sales totaled about $45 billion, appeared to be leveling off.

The United States last year accounted for 48 percent of total deliveries of conventional weapons, compared with 51 percent in 1992. Russia accounted for 21 percent, the institute said. Its 1992 share of was roughly 18 percent.

"Russia plainly intends to preserve a significant defense industrial base to support an ambitious foreign and security policy," the study found.

It said that while Russia had mothballed much of its plant and machinery for arms production, it was unclear whether any had been dismantled.

According to the institute's estimates, world military spending peaked in 1986-87 at more than $1 trillion. The report gave no estimate for 1993, but said armed forces were being reduced in almost all industrialized nations.

The study said China's nuclear weapons program remained clouded in secrecy. But apparently China was continuing to develop its ballistic missile technology and to acquire aircraft from Russia capable of carrying nuclear weapons.

This month, China conducted its second underground nuclear test since October 1993 in spite of a ban on tests by other nuclear countries.