Skip to Content

Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2861

Why China Blocks Sanctions on Iran, Sudan, Burma

By Thalif Deen - Inter Press Service

United Nations, 13 June, (IPS): The People's Republic of China, a veto-wielding permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and one of the world's prolific arms producers, continues to remain a major stumbling block to U.S. efforts to impose economic and military sanctions on three countries: Sudan, Burma (Myanmar) and Iran.

"The reasons are obvious," says a Southeast Asian diplomat who closely monitors the politics in the region. "Just as much as the United States and other Western powers protect their own political and military interests worldwide, so does China."

With the threat of its veto power, China has expressed strong reservations over recent U.S. and Western attempts to either penalise or impose sanctions against Sudan, Burma and Iran for various political reasons.

But the 15-member Security Council has been unable to take any action against any of the three countries because of opposition from China or Russia -- or both.

And according to a new report released by the London-based Amnesty International (AI), China is a key arms supplier to countries such as Sudan, Burma and Nepal, described as human rights violators.

Iran is also a longtime recipient of Chinese weapons, including Shenyang fighter planes, T-59 battle tanks, HY-2 Silkworm surface- to-surface missiles and rocket launchers. China has strong economic interests in both Sudan and Iran which, in turn, are oil suppliers.

"China's arms exports, estimated to be in excess of one billion dollars a year often involve the exchange of weapons for raw materials to fuel the country's rapid economic growth," says the AI study.

But it is a trade shrouded in secrecy, the study points out, because Beijing does not publish any information about arms transfers abroad and hasn't submitted any data to the U.N.'s annual Register on Conventional Arms in the last eight years.

"As a major arms exporter and a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, China should live up to its obligations under international law," says Helen Hughes, Amnesty International's arms control researcher.

"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 in a statement released here.

Frida Berrigan, senior research associate at the New York-based World Policy Institute's Arms Trade Resource Centre, says that China seems to be the largest and most flagrant violator of international norms on arms transfers but it is not a problem one country can hope to solve on its own.

"In this globalised world where China's military trucks are powered by U.S. engines and U.S. fighter plans might have components made in Israel or South Korea, arms transfers to countries in conflict or with records of egregious human right abuses cannot be blamed on one country alone," Berrigan told IPS.

The only real solution, she pointed out, is to manufacture fewer arms and sell to fewer nations. "Unfortunately, all signs point toward the trend going in the opposite direction -- towards greater arms proliferation, and more sophisticated tools for waging war and repressing rights," Berrigan added.

According to the AI study, more than 200 Chinese military trucks -- normally fitted with U.S. Cummins diesel engines -- were shipped to Sudan last August, despite a U.S. arms embargo on both countries, and the involvement of similar vehicles in the killing and abduction of civilians in the politically-troubled Darfur.

The study, titled "China: Sustaining Conflict and Human Rights Abuses", also cites regular Chinese military shipments to Myanmar, including the supply in August 2005 of 400 military trucks to the Burmese army despite its involvement in the torture, killing and forced eviction of hundreds of thousands of civilians.

Chinese military exports to Nepal in 2005 and early 2006, including a deal to supply nearly 25,000 Chinese-made rifles and 18,000 grenades to Nepalese security forces, were also badly timed, according to the AI report, because it was delivered at a time when "Nepal was involved in the brutal repression of thousands of civilian demonstrators."

China is also complicit in an increasingly illicit trade in Chinese-made Norinco pistols in Australia, Malaysia, Thailand, and particularly South Africa, where they are commonly used for robbery, rape and other crimes.

The report also indicates how Chinese weapons have helped sustain brutal conflicts, criminal violence and grave human rights violations in countries such as Sudan, Nepal, Myanmar and South Africa. But it also reveals the possible involvement of Western companies in the manufacture of some of these weapons.

"China describes its approach to arms export licensing as 'cautious and responsible', yet the reality couldn't be further from the truth," said Hughes of Amnesty International.

"They must introduce effective laws and regulations banning all arms transfers that could be used for serious human rights violations or breaches in international humanitarian law," she added.

Hughes said that Amnesty International is also calling on China to report annually and publicly on all arms export licensees and deliveries and to support a tough, comprehensive and enforceable international arms trade treaty.

Ann-Louise Colgan, director for policy analysis and communications at Washington-based Africa Action, says that both Russia and China continue to oppose sanctions, for their own economic and political interests.

"China is the single largest investor in the oil industry in Sudan, and Russia also has interests in continuing to sell weapons and other military equipment to the Khartoum regime," she added.

But neither China nor Russia wishes to antagonize the Government of Sudan, and neither one wishes to set a precedent for international intervention (or even punitive action) based on human rights concerns because of their own internal repression of ethnic communities, Colgan told IPS.

- Inter Press Service (IPS) News Agency -

Share this