Officials from the UK Government's arms export agency, UK Trade & Investment Defence & Security Organisation (UKTI DSO), have met with military representatives from China - despite the fact that the country is still subject to a European Union (EU) military embargo.
The existence of such meetings was revealed after a Freedom of Information (FoI) request by Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) to UKTI DSO.
The People's Republic of China was placed under an EU military embargo following the Tienanmen Square massacre of 4 June 1989, when over a thousand students and other civilians were killed by Chinese army units. The embargo aimed to deny EU weaponry to China while sending a strong signal that violent repression was unacceptable.
The scope of the EU embargo is left to "national interpretation" by each country. The UK interprets this ban as covering "lethal weapons", including small and large calibre weapons and components, ammunition, military aircraft, fighting vehicles and weapons platforms.
However, a wide range of other military equipment, often vital for the "lethal weapons" to be effective, is permitted under the scope of the embargo. The UK continues to licence some military equipment for export to China, to the value of several million pounds each year. In addition, the UK licences and exports a range of dual use goods and components.
It was not revealed by the response to CAAT's FOI request how many meetings with Chinese representatives were held, where or when they took place, who attended, what subjects were covered and whether arms export licences were discussed.
The FOI request also revealed that UKTI officials met with representatives from six other countries considered as "major countries of concern" in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's (FCO) Annual Report on Human Rights 2008 - Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam. UKTI DSO officials also met with officials from Georgia and Sri Lanka, which were involved in major conflicts in 2008-9.
Kaye Stearman, CAAT's spokesperson, commented: "China is supposedly under military embargo yet UKTI DSO seems to have no qualms about holding meetings with Chinese military officials. There is no point making speeches about human rights violations when your officials are discussing weapons sales with the perpetrators of those violations."