Zhang Jun, China’s Ambassador to the United Nations March 10, 2020. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

On 6 July, the People’s Republic of China deposited its instrument of accession to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) at the United Nations. China will become a State Party on 4 October 2020 (90 days after ratification), bringing the total number of States Parties to 107.

The ATT seeks to regulate the $100bn global arms trade, requiring governments to assess the risk of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law before authorising an arms export and to ensure that arms transferred do not end up in the hands of terrorists and organised criminal groups. As one of the world’s major arms exporters (according to SIPRI China was the fifth-largest global arms exporter between 2014 and 2018), China’s accession is of major significance in terms of Treaty universalisation. 

Control Arms welcomes China’s accession to the ATT, and urges the Chinese Government to ensure full compliance with the Treaty’s obligations. Control Arms looks forward to China demonstrating its commitment to the object and purpose of the Treaty through robust and effective implementation, including fulfilment of all reporting obligations

The accession to the ATT can be seen as an expression of China’s commitment to international arms control and regional peace and security. In his statement following the accession ceremony, ZhangJun, China’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations noted that his government “supports the purpose and goals of the Treaty, agrees on taking necessary measures to regulate international arms trade and combat illicit arms transfers.” Ambassador Jun also stressed that China’s policy already prohibits the transfer of arms to non-state actors and called on others “to disallow export to non-state parties,” which in fact exceeds the restrictions included in the ATT. On the other hand, some of the Treaty provisions concerning international human rights and humanitarian law are not currently reflected in China’s control system and will thus require a change at the national level. 

Chinese J-10 fighter jets (Reuters / Alex Lee) © Reuters

While concerns remain around China’s historical willingness to supply arms to those regarded as legitimate national authorities regardless of the risks of misuse, Control Arms sees China’s accession to the Treaty as an opportunity to improve transparency and accountability in its national arms export control system and ultimately to play a role in reducing armed violence globally. Furthermore, by becoming the ninth ATT State Party in Asia, a region with relatively few ATT States Parties, China’s regional influence can help bolster the Treaty membership,  particularly amongst Asian countries which have not yet acceded but have been broadly supportive of the ATT.

Control Arms looks forward to constructive, frank and regular engagement with China on matters related to effective Treaty implementation.