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China's Norinco CQ Rifle: More Than Just A Copy Of America's M16A1?

Kyle Mizokami

Security, Asia

The CQ has popped up in conflicts all over the globe, including the Syrian and Sudanese civil wars.

Key Point: It is not clear why China produced the CQ rifle.

Some weapons are so ubiquitous they are manufactured even in countries one might not associate them with. One example of this is the M16 rifle series. In service with the U.S. Military for more than fifty years, it has fallen into the hands of many groups that were not originally issued them, such as the Viet Cong, communist guerillas in the Philippines, and now the Islamic State. Only one of America’s potential adversaries took the step of making their own M16s, however: that distinction belongs to China with the production of the CQ rifle.

The Cold War saw large numbers of M16 style rifles issued to America’s allies worldwide, from the South Vietnamese Army to the Israeli Defense Forces. Lightweight and reasonably effective once a series of embarrassing—and deadly—kinks were ironed out, the M16A1 rifle was also a visual symbol of a country’s alliance with the United States, just as the AK-47/M assault rifle was a symbol of support by the Soviet Union.

The M16 series rifle, adopted by the Pentagon 1965, was a gas operated, direct impingement weapon designed to fire the new 5.56-millimeter round. Weighing just seven pounds with a twenty round magazine, it was a handy weapon for ground forces facing both conventional, World War II-style warfare and counterinsurgency alike. The lighter rounds were easier to transport in bulk by helicopter, and the 5.56 seemingly had magical lethality against human-sized targets.

After the Vietnam War, the People’s Republic of China began manufacturing a number of American small arms that played a prominent role in the war. The M14 battle rifle, M16 assault rifle and M1911 .45 caliber handgun all went into production, likely the result of copies of the weapons handed over by the victorious People’s Army of Vietnam in 1975 to their Chinese allies. The surrender of South Vietnam flooded former North Vietnam with weapons which it distributed far and wide, sending captured military equipment as far away as the Soviet Union, East Germany and likely North Korea.

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