China Restraining Small Arms Exports

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By Richard Johnson | IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

STOCKHOLM (IDN) – “China has been actively involved in three important processes during 2013 to prevent trafficking of small arms and light weapons (SALW) and promote greater transparency in international transfers of SALW,” says Tilman Brück, Director of Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

A significant process was that China played an active role in the negotiation of the 2013 Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) and accepted the inclusion of SALW in the treaty’s scope. Then, in September China voted in favour of the first United Nations Security Council resolution to focus exclusively on the problems associated with the illicit trade in SALW.

In contrast, however, the Chinese expert in the UN Group of Governmental Experts reviewing the UN Register of Conventional Arms (UNROCA) opposed the inclusion of a new category for SALW in the register. “Interpreting these positions is made more challenging by the opacity of China’s system for controlling SALW exports and preventing trafficking and the lack of data on the size and destinations of Chinese SALW exports,” notes Brück.

Against this backdrop, the SIPRI study titled ‘China's Exports of Small Arms and Light Weapons’ represents an important contribution to increasing understanding of Chinese approaches to controlling SALW exports and to mapping the recipients of Chinese SALW.

The authors of the study – Mark Bromley, Mathieu Duchâtel and Paul Holtom – have built on their expertise in the international arms trade and Chinese foreign policy to provide new insights in these areas. And, their work provides a solid basis not only for further research on Chinese arms exports but also to enable greater engagement with Chinese counterparts to prevent illicit and destabilizing transfers of SALW and ammunition.

Small arms and light weapons, according to the UN Panel of Governmental Experts, are ‘those weapons designed for personal use’, and light weapons are ‘those designed for use by several persons serving as a crew’.

The study points out that China has long been one of the world’s most significant exporters of small arms and light weapons. It is also among the least transparent. At the same time, China has stated its commitment to preventing the illicit trade in SALW and formally recognizes the destabilizing effect that SALW transfers can have on peace and security, economic development and social stability.

China’s development of improved transfer control systems has been driven by both domestic and international concerns, states the study. While initially reluctant to fully engage at the United Nations level, China has increasingly accepted the validity of reaching agreement on instruments to help tackle the illicit trade in SALW and to control SALW transfers.

“China’s engagement with the UN Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects (POA) is particularly important in this regard. China has provided important information on Chinese SALW transfer controls in its reports on POA implementation. Nevertheless, there are still gaps in China’s reports,” says the study.

Unenthusiastic

It adds: China is unenthusiastic about creating an eighth category for SALW in the UN Register of Conventional Arms and has never responded to the invitation to submit information on SALW transfers. In fact China dropped its opposition to the inclusion of SALW in the 2013 Arms Trade Treaty after receiving assurances that its red lines in other areas would be respected.

The study notes that Beijing’s view on the imposition of UN arms embargoes is shaped by its wider views on non-interference in the internal affairs of states and the primacy of national sovereignty. Subsequently, China has a mixed record in its interactions with arms embargo reporting mechanisms.

According to the study, at the end of the 1990s and in early 2000s, China established a comprehensive system to control the export of conventional arms, including SALW. Arms exports are handled as an administrative matter. The cornerstone of the transfer control system for conventional arms is the 2002 Regulations on the Administration of Arms Exports.

The regulations contain information on arms trading companies and licencing and a control list. There are currently 11 state-owned enterprises (SOE) authorized to trade in conventional arms, of which four are authorized to export SALW and another two are authorized to export man-portable air defence system (MANPADS). The Chinese Government has reportedly examined the idea of authorizing private companies to apply for export licenses, but this idea never gained prominence, says the study.

The system grants the state and the military strong centralized control over arms exports to prevent illicit and destabilizing transfers. During the licence-issuing process, export control authorities examine whether the requested transfer is conducive to the self-defence capability of the recipient country, its impact on regional and world peace, stability and security, and whether it could interfere with the recipient country’s internal affairs.

Limited information

According to the authors of the study, China exports all types of new and surplus SALW, but does not provide public information on either SALW export authorizations or deliveries. A combination of security, political and economic drivers motivate China’s exports.

“China is a supplier of SALW to states that struggle to gain access to supplies from a number of other major SALW producers and exporters and also benefits from the fact that many states are seeking to diversify sources of supply. It is clear that China is an important supplier of SALW to states in the developing world, and fragile and conflict-affected states in particular,” states the study.

According to the SIPRI report, at least 46 states imported military SALW from China during 2006-2010, with African states accounting for the largest share of such imports. “A number of exports of Chinese SALW to Africa that have involved European arms brokers have caused concern with regard to their potential impacts on peace, stability and security in the importing state,” the study says.

Several states in Asia have also reported importing SALW from China, with Pakistan and Bangladesh the most prominent recipients, both of direct deliveries as well as licenced production arrangements and technology transfers.

Besides, there has been an increase in the quantity and quality of weapons supplied by China to Latin America in recent years. In the Middle East, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Qatar imported SALW from China in the period 2006-2010. Iran has been a major recipient of Chinese arms, including SALW, since the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War.

“But in response to concerns that Iran is an important point of diversion of arms and technology to armed non-state actors and the illicit market, China is reported to have wound down arms sales to Iran,” according to the study.

Non-state actors

It adds: There is significant evidence to indicate that armed non-state actors in South and South East Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Middle East are using SALW produced in China. These SALW may have been stolen from government stocks or seized from government forces on the battlefield. However, in many cases it appears that states have imported weapons from China and then re-transferred them to armed non-state actors.

The authors of the study are of the view that there is potential for greater sharing with China of other states’ experiences, policies and practices with regards to assessments of the risk of diversion, including unauthorized re-exports.

“Building on Chinese interest in developing and implementing robust controls on SALW exports, and given that there have been a number of cases of Chinese SALW exports being re-exported without authorization, it could be desirable for states participating in the Wassenaar Arrangement to consider conducting outreach to China on its Best Practice Guidelines on Subsequent Transfer (Re-export) Controls for Conventional Weapons Systems,” authors of the study say.

“States could also share their own experiences and practices in dealing with cases of unauthorized re-export and in strengthening risk assessment and post-shipment and delivery measures in this area,” they add. [IDN-InDepthNews – October 14, 2013]

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