Washington not budging on its arms restrictions on China

Updated: 2013-10-18 01:26

By Chen Weihua (China Daily)

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Though this week's announcement that the United States government is loosening controls over military exports has raised a few eyebrows, there is no sign that the US is changing its existing arms embargo on China.

Thousands of parts for military aircraft — such as propeller blades, brake pads and tires — will be available to almost any country in the world with minimal oversight, even to countries under arms embargos by the United Nations, the news website ProPublica reported this week.

Previously, military equipment manufacturers and exporters in the US had to register with the US Department of State and get a license for each planned shipment. US officials then scrutinized each proposed deal to ensure that the importing nation was not in violation of human rights and that the shipment did not end up in the hands of terrorists or questionable groups.

The new system will move whole categories of equipment from the US State Department to the US Commerce Department, where oversight is expected to be far more lax. Military equipment such as fighter jets and drones will remain under the tighter scrutiny of the State Department.

The new move is regarded as a victory for defense firms. US administration officials have also argued that the new rules, part of US President Barack Obama's Export Control Reform Initiative, will help the country's economy. Critics, however, have blasted the new rules as contrary to Obama's call at home for tougher gun controls. While some US military equipment may now be available to China, advanced arms systems that China needs will not be available because of the embargo.

Bonnie Glaser, senior adviser for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the decision to ease restrictions on the export of military technology applies to some dual-use categories and spare parts, not major weaponry systems.

"Under the new regulations, it is possible that China might be able to secure the spare parts for the Blackhawk helicopters that it procured from the US many years ago, but (it) has been barred from obtaining spare parts to maintain (them)," she said, referring to the Blackhawk helicopters China bought in the 1980s when the US eased its restrictions on arms exports to China.

The US imposed tighter restrictions on arms sales to China later that decade.

"This does not open the door to the sale of US weapons to China nor is it a precursor to a lifting of the (European Union) arms embargo on China," Glaser said.

Douglas Paal, vice-president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the US arms embargo on China is unlikely to be repealed. "And the EU arms embargo has effectively morphed into a set of agreed standards on arms-related transfers that would continue to preclude most arms-related transfers to China," he said.