China’s Arms Exports Flooding Sub-Saharan Africa

As China transitions from being the world’s largest weapons importer to becoming a major producer, the Washington Post examines its role as an exporter of arms to 16 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. While the exports do not technically violate any U.N. sanctions, China has been criticized for not fully cooperating with investigators tracking the global arms industry:

Weapons from China have surfaced in a string of U.N. investigations in war zones stretching from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Ivory Coast, Somalia and Sudan. China is by no means alone in supplying the arms that help fuel African conflicts, and there is no proof that China or its arms exporters have intentionally violated U.N. embargoes in any of those countries.

But China has stood apart from other major arms exporters, including Russia, for its assertive challenge to U.N. authority, routinely refusing to cooperate with U.N. arms experts and flexing its diplomatic muscle to protect its allies and curtail investigations that may shed light on its own secretive arms industry.

The stance highlights the tensions between China’s responsibilities as a global power and its interests in exploiting new markets. It has also raised questions about whether Chinese diplomats have a grip on the reach of the country’s influence in the arms industry beyond its borders.

Beijing has responded to the disclosures not by enforcing regulations at home but by using its clout within the Security Council to claw back the powers of independent U.N. arms investigators. Those efforts have helped undercut the independence of U.N. panels that track arms trading with Iran and North Korea.

In addition to fueling regional conflicts, Chinese weapons have also been recovered from elephant and rhinoceros poaching operations in southern Africa, according to a report by Saving Rhinos in 2010 (PDF).