Although China controls only 2 percent of the global arms market, Beijing’s
impact “is measured less by the value of its sales than by the character of
its clients,” says William D. Hartung, director of the Arms and Security
Initiative at the New America Foundation. A brief by the Washington-based
non-profit public policy institute, released Wednesday, points out that
China is currently “an arms supplier of last resort for dictators and human
rights abusers”, including Sudan, Zimbabwe and Myanmar (Burma).
“China’s domestic policies have come under much-deserved scrutiny in the
run-up to the Olympics,” noted Hartung, author of the study, who says
Beijing’s clients include politically repressive regimes.
“We shouldn’t forget that the Chinese government’s most egregious act has
been its role as an enabler of mass murder in Darfur,” he said.
Without Chinese support, he argued, the ability of the Sudanese government
and its allies to kill, maim, and intimidate the people of Darfur would be
Asked whether Western nations are equally guilty in their arms sales
policies, Hartung told IPS that major suppliers like the United States,
Britain and France all supply dictatorships and human rights abusers.
But he pointed out that China’s markets include the few repressive regimes
that these major exporters have chosen not to supply.
For example, in the case of the U.S., 17 of its 25 largest recipients of
weapons in the developing world in 2007 were designated as major human
rights abusers or undemocratic regimes by its own State Department.
“Under various laws and political commitments [not formal treaties], major
suppliers are committed to limiting sales to regions of conflict and major
human rights abusers,” according to Hartung.
But in practice, he said, these rules are violated more often than they are
observed, generally on grounds of “national interest”, which could mean
anything from exporting to major oil producing countries to supporting
nations in “strategic locations”.
In order to address the hypocrisy of current arms export rules, such as they
are, Amnesty International, Oxfam, and scores of other groups are promoting
the concept of a global Arms Trade Treaty that would make these loose
promises to avoid arming dictators and human rights abusers into formal
legal commitments, he added.
In a statement released Wednesday, Human Rights First and the Save Darfur
Coalition said the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) recent efforts to
charge Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir with genocide puts the world’s
governments on notice that war crimes may well be occurring in Darfur.
Countries such as China and Russia are bound by the Genocide Convention to
take all possible action — including immediately suspending arms sales to
Sudan — the two non-governmental organisations (NGOs) said.
At a meeting of the Security Council last week, Chinese Ambassador Wang
Guangya spoke against the recent ICC indictment of Al-Bashir on charges of
genocide in Darfur. “China supports the reasonable request by the African
Union and other organisations for the Security Council to take early action
to suspend the indictment of the Sudanese leader by the ICC, in accordance
with the relevant provisions” of the Rome Statute that created the ICC.
Under Article 16 of the Rome Statute, the 15-member Security Council has the
power to suspend any indictment of Al-Bashir — under a “deferral of
investigation and prosecution” clause.
Hartung said that China has been the most egregious violator of the global
arms embargo on Sudan, providing everything from guns and ammunition to arms
Since 2004, the vast majority of Sudan’s small arms and light weapons have
come from China — and many of them have found their way into the hands of
the notorious Janjaweed militias in Darfur.
The arming of Sudan is “just the most damning example of a Chinese policy
that has resulted in major weapons exports to repressive regimes in Zimbabwe
and Myanmar, as well as sales of missile technology to Iran and Pakistan,”
China is essentially “bartering arms and political support for access to
Sudan’s oil resources,” Hartung explains.
China has also sold combat aircraft to Myanmar, Sudan, and Zimbabwe, as well
as air–to-air missiles to Sudan.
Asked to detail some of the Chinese weapons sales, Hartung told IPS that
shipments to Myanmar include 12 F-7 fighter aircraft; 40 PLA-2A short- range
air-to-air missiles; 40 PLA-2B short-range air-to-air missiles; and 12 K-8
aircraft, which can be used for training or for combat.
The arms shipments to Sudan include 3 A-5C Fantan fighter/ground attack
aircraft and 12 K-8 trainer/combat aircraft, along with 10 Type-85 IIAP
tanks and 10 WZ-551 armoured personnel carriers.
The sales to Zimbabwe include 12 K-8 trainer/combat aircraft, plus small
arms and ammunition.