- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 14, 2006

In a report released Monday, Amnesty International examines China’s “routine export of conventional weapons and small arms,” which have “been contributing to human rights violations including in brutal arms conflicts.” The report, which reiterates many previously documented concerns, provides yet another reminder of the darker side of China’s tremendous growth over the past decades. Competition from China can undercut the West’s goals of using trade and foreign aid to encourage government reforms and progress toward democracy, but China’s soft loans and favorable oil deals seem relatively benign compared to its $1 billion-a-year in arms exports.

“Chinese arms deals often involve an exchange of weapons for raw materials,” Amnesty International notes, and have included sending weapons to Iran for oil and bartering arms for timber from Charles Taylor’s murderous regime in Liberia. During the years that China was selling machine guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers to Liberia, there was a U.N. arms embargo in place against the Taylor government. Other rights abusers cited in the report that carry out weapons deals with China include Sudan, Myanmar (Burma) and Nepal. The response from Chinese officials has been typical of any challenge to the country’s secretive military: acerbic denials followed by a reversion to party policy, in this case claims of prudence and responsibility in arms dealings.

China supplies Sudan with helicopters and military trucks, which Amnesty International has documented as often being used by the Sudanese army and the Janjaweed militias in Darfur. China “regularly supplies” the military junta in Myanmar with vehicles, including tanks and artillery, such as anti-aircraft guns. And while the United States and India responded to King Gyanendra’s assumption of power in Nepal by cutting off military assistance to his army, China continued to sell the Nepalese army vehicles and other military hardware. The army clashed for weeks with pro-democracy demonstrators in Katmandu. Only India, which struggles with its own Maoist insurgency, could really claim a strong geopolitical interest in the king’s suppression of the violent Maoist insurgents. China’s interest was simply business — a mercantilist policy that Beijing consistently hides behind when inking generous deals for energy and natural resources in Africa, the Middle East, and, more and more, in Latin America.

But hardware is, in fact, only one aspect of the compensation that China provides to these countries. The other is diplomatic shelter: China has indicated it will block U.N. action in Sudan and sanctions against Iran, and it also opposed bringing the abuses of the military junta in Myanmar to the Security Council.

China has not signed on to a multilateral agreement governing arms sales, and its own policies are so ambiguous as to prevent effective regulation. The United States will inevitably, and appropriately, call on Beijing to rein in its arm sales. But much like the effort to make China bring more transparency to its military buildup, Washington cannot expect these exhortations to affect the Chinese leadership, or sway Beijing from its set agenda.

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