Is There a Regime China Won’t Support?

by Kevin Jon Heller

The Globe & Mail has a blockbuster report today concerning China’s willingness to supply weapons to Gaddafi’s regime during the rebellion:

China offered huge stockpiles of weapons to Colonel Moammar Gadhafi during the final months of his regime, according to papers that describe secret talks about shipments via Algeria and South Africa.

Documents obtained by The Globe and Mail show that state-controlled Chinese arms manufacturers were prepared to sell weapons and ammunition worth at least $200-million to the embattled Col. Gadhafi in late July, a violation of United Nations sanctions.

The documents suggest that Beijing and other governments may have played a double game in the Libyan war, claiming neutrality but covertly helping the dictator. The papers do not confirm whether any military assistance was delivered, but senior leaders of the new transitional government in Tripoli say the documents reinforce their suspicions about the recent actions of China, Algeria and South Africa. Those countries may now suffer a disadvantage as Libya’s new rulers divide the spoils from their vast energy resources, and select foreign firms for the country’s reconstruction.

Omar Hariri, chief of the transitional council’s military committee, reviewed the documents and concluded that they explain the presence of brand-new weapons his men encountered on the battlefield. He expressed outrage that the Chinese were negotiating an arms deal even while his forces suffered heavy casualties in the slow grind toward Tripoli.

“I’m almost certain that these guns arrived and were used against our people,” Mr. Hariri said.

Senior rebel officials confirmed the authenticity of the four-page memo, written in formal style on the green eagle letterhead used by a government department known as the Supply Authority, which deals with procurement. The Globe and Mail found identical letterhead in the Tripoli offices of that department. The memo was discovered in a pile of trash sitting at the curb in a neighbourhood known as Bab Akkarah, where several of Col. Gadhafi’s most loyal supporters had lavish homes.

The document reports in detail about a trip by Col. Gadhafi’s security officials from Tripoli to Beijing. They arrived on July 16, and in the following days they met with officials from three state-controlled weapons manufacturers: China North Industries Corp. (Norinco); the China National Precision Machinery Import & Export Corp. (CPMIC); and China XinXing Import & Export Corp. The Chinese companies offered the entire contents of their stockpiles for sale, and promised to manufacture more supplies if necessary.

The hosts thanked the Libyans for their discretion, emphasized the need for confidentiality, and recommended delivery via third parties.

“The companies suggest that they make the contracts with either Algeria or South Africa, because those countries previously worked with China,” the memo says.

The Chinese companies also noted that many of the items the Libyan delegation requested were already held in the arsenals of the Algerian military, and could be transported immediately across the border; the Chinese said they could replenish the Algerian stocks afterward. The memo also indicated that Algeria had not yet consented to such an arrangement, and proposed further talks at the branch offices of the Chinese companies in Algiers.

Appendices stapled to the memo, and scattered nearby, show the deadly items under discussion: truck-mounted rocket launchers; fuel-air explosive missiles; and anti-tank missiles, among others. Perhaps most controversially, the Chinese apparently offered Col. Gadhafi’s men the QW-18, a surface-to-air missile small enough for a soldier to carry on his shoulder – roughly similar to a U.S. Stinger, capable of bringing down some military aircraft.

Government spokespeople in Beijing, Algiers and Pretoria either declined to comment or could not be reached on Friday. E-mails sent to two Chinese arms manufacturers were not answered.

I’m not surprised that China was willing to sell arms to Gaddafi; from all indications, no regime is too dictatorial for China’s tastes.  But I have to admit, I find it shocking that China would be willing to violate the Security Council’s arms embargo for a measly $200 million — pocket change for the government.  These revelations not only reinforce China’s image as being completely unconcerned with human rights when it comes to trade, they also make it look completely hypocritical.  As the Globe & Mail article notes, although China abstained from the resolution authorizing the use of force against Gaddafi’s regime, it voted in favor of Resolution 1970, which imposed an arms embargo on the regime.

And surface-to-air missiles?  Really?  Can you imagine what would have happened if a Chinese SAM had shot down an American or British airplane?

2 Responses

  1. This is a truly remarkable and disturbing story. Having made the wrong choice of who to support, it appears that Algeria, South Africa and China simply calculated that they could make a quick last buck by arming Gaddafi’s regime.

    That being said, I don’t think that this should detract or distract from the military contracts from the US, UK, France, Russia, etc. that went through or would have gone through had the UN not intervened. It may be “extra” wrong for China, Algeria and SA to have considered arming Gaddafi more recently but it was always wrong to get so cozy with Gaddafi that states provided him with arms and apparently help with rendition and torture.

  2. I doubt the sticker price was what they cared about.  More likely, they planned to parley their clutch help of Gaddafi into resource extraction contracts once he was victorious and the various NATO-aligned companies such as ENI were expelled.

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