UK parliament calls for retention of EU-China arms embargo

The British parliamentary committee on arms export controls has just completed and published a scrutiny of the UK’s arms sales in which it raises the issue of the EU-China Arms Embargo and calls for the embargo to remain in place.

The arms embargo was enacted following the Chinese government’s violent response to the Tiananmen protesters in 1989 and its lifting has generally been linked by the EU to concrete progress on human rights issues in China.

However, since 2004 the embargo has come under pressure from various European governments keen to increase arms exports to China. The issue has proved divisive within the EU, with some countries arguing that China’s human rights progress has been insufficient, while the United States, Japan and Taiwan have all expressed concern at an increase in advanced weapons sales to China.

The report notes:

EU Arms Embargo on China
114. In our last Report we noted that the value of standard individual exports licences (SIELs) issued for exports to China had increased steadily from 2004 to 2007, despite the arms embargo being in place since 1989. When asked whether the embargo had any economic or commercial effect, the FCO responded:

It is important to note that it is not a “full scope” embargo. The export of some controlled goods to China was always envisaged and thus, increases in the volume of exports for controlled goods that are not covered by the terms of the embargo should not be seen as a barometer of the effectiveness of the embargo. It is also difficult to assess the economic and commercial impact of the embargo based on one year’s figures, and this needs to be assessed against a longer period.

115. Whilst the Government told us that it continued to have “serious concerns” about human rights in China, it argued that: “Strengthening the arms embargo would do nothing to encourage dialogue, and would risk isolating the Chinese Government in a way which would make it significantly more difficult for us to raise human rights concerns.”

116. We repeat our conclusion that the British Government and the EU should maintain their arms embargo on China, and that the Government should provide us in its Response with an update on its assessment of the human rights situation in China and of the adequacy of the current arms embargo in place.