Beijing attacked over arms exports

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 June, 2006, 12:00am

Amnesty International is expected to release a report today criticising China's 'irresponsible' export of arms to regimes notorious for using weapons to violate human rights, just days after the jailing of a Dutch man who shipped arms through Hong Kong to Liberia.

The report by the international human rights group describes the mainland as 'one of the world's biggest, most secretive and irresponsible arms exporters'.

It examined several instances, including the case of Dutch arms dealer Guus van Kouwenhoven, who was imprisoned in Europe last week for eight years for brokering the delivery of weapons to Liberia from China in contravention of a UN arms embargo on the African nation.

Dutch investigators had visited Hong Kong to interview former crewmen of the vessel prosecutors said was used to smuggle the weapons.

Amnesty International's arms control researcher, Helen Hughes, who assisted in compiling the report, said her organisation was particularly concerned that China was transferring arms and military, security and police equipment to regimes with records of 'gross human rights violations'.

She said Chinese senior ministers who told international conferences that their approach to arms export licensing was 'cautious and responsible' were insincere.

'China is the only major arms exporting power that has not signed up to any multilateral agreements with criteria to prevent arms exports likely to be used for serious human rights violations,' she said.

Hong Kong was put on a list of 28 destinations into which Chinese small arms have been imported.

The organisation estimated China's arms exports at more than US$1 billion a year, but admitted it may have underestimated the value because Beijing does not publish information about arms transfers abroad and has not submitted data to the UN Register on Conventional Arms for the past eight years.

It considers China one of the top 10 suppliers of arms in the world.

The mainland's rise as a major exporter of arms began after Deng Xiaoping's economic reforms in 1979, which enabled government agencies and the military to set up their own commercial enterprises, the report said. Although the central government issued a directive in the 1990s for military units to divest themselves of profit-making companies, a 2005 report by the US-based Centre for International Trade and Security said links between the People's Liberation Army and arms companies still existed.

China's manufacture, use and suspected export of police and security equipment, including stun guns, shock batons and prisoner restraints also came under fire from Amnesty.

Ms Hughes said Amnesty hoped the findings could lead China to engage in an international discussion and to support an international arms trade treaty that the UN General Assembly was expected to draw up in October.

It also called on the EU to maintain its arms embargo on China.

The weapons trail

Countries where Amnesty International has found evidence of China-supplied arms:

Nepal: small arms and light weapons supplied to armed forces

Sudan: Z6 and Mi-8 helicopters, military trucks

South Africa: 9mm pistols

Chad: automatic grenade launchers

Myanmar: military trucks

Tanzania: tear gas pistols

Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, Finland, Germany, Guatemala, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Iran, Italy, Macau, Malaysia, Niger, Pakistan, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, Sudan, Thailand and Uganda: pistols and revolvers