US military equipment banned from export to China being sold on Taobao
Shoppers in China can easily purchase export embargoed US military equipment on e-commerce platforms.
Multiple embargoed items, including infrared identification chips used by US military special ops, as well as sniper scopes, infantry accessories and internal training materials, are offered for sale by at least a dozen shops on Taobao, China's largest online shopping site, owned by Nasdaq-listed Alibaba Group.
Shop owners seemed to be aware of the items' sensitivity, with many highlighting the embargo restrictions as a selling point.
Photos of some items' packaging showed the phrase: "US government property. Commercial release is unlawful."
On the item page for US military training materials, a shop named "Enemies' Equipment Club" said: "All [items] are brand new ... the US restricts the export of these items. Obtaining them was difficult."
"If you can understand it, the benefit is unlimited," the description continued.
The owner of the shop, based in Sichuan prvoince, as well as the owners of other shops offering embargoed equipment, declined to reveal how they acquired the items.
It was not possible to independently confirm whether the items were genuine.
More than half the stock of the training materials was sold out. At least eight customers had purchased the package, made up of five books including the Special Forces Hand Book published by the US Army Headquarters and Ranger Hand Book by the US Army Infantry School.
Customer feedback was positive. All buyers gave an “excellent” rank on product quality and authenticity.
“I would not give an explanation in public, [but] it is a must have for fundamental trainings,” one anonymous customer wrote in a review.
The training material package was priced 170 yuan, but there were more expensive items.
In the same shop, a Northrop Grumman M24 Binocular was being sold for 1,750 yuan, while an Aqua-Lung survival egress air device used by United States Navy SEALs was priced at 1,860 yuan.
All US military items sold on Taobao did not involve sensitive advanced technology, nor, except for US Army knives, were they potentially dangerous.
Many of the items were of the type usually sought after by military fans, such as uniforms, canned food, vest and medical kits.
The US has long imposed strict export embargoes on military related items to China.
The US International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR) lists China, along with 25 other nations including Syria, Sudan, North Korea and Iran, on the munition export embargo list.
Non-offensive items such as binoculars and training materials can be purchased by civilians at shops in the US without registration, but their export to China is restricted.
The ITAR bans all items on the US munition list from being exported to “enemy states”.
China and businesses in the US have long criticized the embargo policy as too restrictive and outdated. Some items on the banned list, such as uniforms, are actually produced in China.
One Chinese computer scientist, speaking anonymously, said the US ban on Intel chips for the construction of super computers in China was a good example of the policy’s “foolishness”.
“Search on Taobao for Intel Xeon chips and you will find thousands of shops with attractive prices,” the scientist said.
“But Chinese military won’t use Taobao. They are developing and deploying their own chips.”
Alibaba and Taobao did not immediately respond to requests for comment.