UK arms trade officials meet with China despite military embargo

31 July 2009

Officials from the UK Government's arms export agency, UK Trade & Investment Defence & Security Organisation (UKTI DSO), have met with military representatives from China - despite the fact that China is still subject to a European Union (EU) military embargo. The existence of such meetings was revealed after a Freedom of Information (FoI) request by Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) to UKTI DSO.

The People's Republic of China was placed under an EU military embargo following the Tienanmen Square massacre of 4 June 1989, when over a thousand students and other civilians were killed by Chinese army units. The embargo aimed to deny EU weaponry to China while sending a strong signal that violent repression was unacceptable.

The scope of the EU embargo is left to "national interpretation" by each country. The UK interprets this ban as covering "lethal weapons", including small and large calibre weapons and components, ammunition, military aircraft, fighting vehicles and weapons platforms.

However, a wide range of other military equipment, often vital for the "lethal weapons" to be effective, is permitted under the scope of the embargo. The UK continues to licence some military equipment for export to China, to the value of several million pounds each year. In addition, the UK licences and exports a range of dual use goods and components.

It was not revealed by the response to CAAT's FOI request how many meetings with Chinese representatives were held, where or when they took place, who attended, what subjects were covered and whether arms export licences were discussed.

The FOI request also revealed that UKTI officials met with representatives from six other countries considered as "major countries of concern" in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's (FCO) Annual Report on Human Rights 2008 - Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam. UKTI DSO officials also met with officials from Georgia and Sri Lanka, which were involved in major conflicts in 2008-9.

CAAT spokesperson Kaye Stearman said:

"China is supposedly under military embargo yet UKTI DSO seems to have no qualms about holding meetings with Chinese military officials. There is no point making speeches about human rights violations when your officials are discussing weapons sales with the perpetrators of those violations."

For further information please contact CAAT's Media Co-ordinator, Kaye Stearman on 020 7281 0297 or mobile 07990 673 232 or email media(at)caat·org·uk



1. Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) works for the reduction and ultimate abolition of the international arms trade together with progressive demilitarisation within arms producing countries. 80% of CAAT's funding comes from individual supporters' donations and CAAT is strictly nonviolent in all its work.

2.UK Trade & Investment Defence & Security Organisation (UKTI DSO) is the UK government body that provides support for arms companies in their export-related activities. This includes promoting weapons sales worldwide, including to countries in conflict and regimes with a documented record of human rights abuse. UKTI DSO was established in April 2008, having replaced some functions of the Defence Export Services Organisation (DESO) which was part of the Ministry of Defence. UKTI DSO is co-organisation of the Defence Systems and Equipment (DSEI), one of the world's largest arms fairs, scheduled to be held at London's ExCeL centre from 8-11 September 2009.

3. The EU resolution on China was agreed on 27 June 1989 in Madrid and states: "in the present circumstances, the European Council thinks it necessary to adopt the following measures ... interruption by the Member States of the Community of military co-operation and an embargo on trade in arms with China." The US and other countries also instituted military embargoes. Despite pressure from some countries to rescind the embargo (notably France and Germany in 2004) the EU embargo remains in place.

4. Specifically, the UK interprets the embargo as covering: “lethal weapons such as machine guns, large calibre weapons, bombs, torpedoes, rockets, and missiles; specially designed components of the above, and ammunition; military aircraft and helicopters, vessels of war, armoured fighting vehicles and other such weapons platforms; any equipment which is liable to lead to internal repression.” (Hansard 3.6.98).

5. The weapons which the UK continues to license for export to China includes: airborne and ground based radar, military aerospace components, range finders, surveillance equipment, laser sighting and targeting equipment, military electronics, communications and navigation equipment.

6. According to the Strategic Control Exports: Reports and Statistics (BERR website) the UK approved export licences for military exports to China totaling £9.1 million in 2006, £3.4 million in 2007 and £14.8 million in 2008, in addition to £197.6 million worth of dual use goods and components (ie those that can be used for civil and military purposes). The figures for the first quarter of 2009 were military export licences for £1.15 million and dual use goods and components of £18.5 million.

7. The list of countries where DSO officials held meetings were: China, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Georgia, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Turkey and Vietnam.

8. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Annual Report on Human Rights 2008 records 20 "major countries of concern" - Afghanistan, Belarus, Burma, China, Colombia, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Korea, Iran, Iraq, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.


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