Hong Kong has spent billions on buying weapons from Britain
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 October, 2014
Danny Lee and Austin Chiu of South China Morning Post in London
The British government’s role in licensing the sale of arms to Hong Kong that could be used for “internal repression” has come under scrutiny.
John Stanley, chairman of the Committee on Arms Export Controls, has written to Business Secretary Vince Cable, asking him to clarify if “Made in the UK” tear gas canisters were used against pro-democracy protesters.
The letter, dated October 21, also contains a list of approved British export licences of lethal weapons to Hong Kong since 2012. Grenade launchers, mortar bombs, sniper rifles, machine guns and gun silencers are among the weapons, according to the committee’s analysis.
Since 2008, £1.4 billion (HK$17.4 billion) worth of licences for arms and equipment sales to Hong Kong have been approved, according to official records.
A British government review of weapons licences to Hong Kong is under way – and could end these exports.
Stanley, a Conservative MP, also asked whether the government would continue to approve licences for the export of arms and equipment to Hong Kong, in light of the use of tear gas.
Cable has been asked to reply by October 30.
Official records show the Government Logistics Department (GLD) and the police bought at least 14,000 rounds of tear gas from Chemring Group, the British supplier, between 2011 and 2014. The sales are worth HK$13.8 million.
A spokeswoman at the UK’s Business, Innovation and Skills department confirmed to the South China Morning Post that Hong Kong police had bought UK-exported weapons and arms.
Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, who was Hong Kong’s security minister from 1998 to 2003, said that various agencies in the city required guns, ammunition and other military hardware, including riot gear, for security reasons.
A police spokeswoman said procurement of “equipment suitable for operational purposes” was within guidelines.
Customs and the Independent Commission Against Corruption released identical statements.
The Correctional Services Department said it imported weapons based on “operational needs” to control “chaotic situations”. The GLD referred questions to the police, while the Immigration Department said it made purchases when items were “required and necessary.”
A budget analysis of each department’s general expenses, specialist supplies and equipment between 2008 and 2014 totals HK$20 billion, including HK$8 billion reserved for police, which could potentially be used to buy weapons. However, general expenses could also include simple photocopier and stationary purchases.
Some police expenditures went on US-imported ammunition worth US$10.05 million between 2005 and 2012, official records show.
Ip, an Executive Council member, said police were “responsible” for internal security, and weapons imports were “consistent with the export policies of the countries concerned”.
She said since the 2001 terror attacks in the United States, the city had been asked to “step up protection” of foreign consulates against terror threats.
“That’s the sort of situation that might require a military-grade [weapons] response,” said Ip.
Critics are calling for the UK to end all arms sales to Hong Kong immediately.
Andrew Smith from the London-based Campaign Against Arms Trade, said that “for its size” Hong Kong buys “a lot” of weapons.
Hugo Swire, the Foreign Office minister responsible for Hong Kong affairs, said the foreign secretary and business secretary were likely to rule on a tear- gas ban soon.
He confirmed that the government had previously licensed exports of tear gas to Hong Kong.
The business ministry said it took arms export responsibilities “very seriously” and would take recent “disturbances” into account for future licence applications. “Military-rated goods for use by the police or other non-military end-users are not subject to sanction restrictions,” a spokeswoman said.