Chinese weapons make Europe arms fair debut


China showed off armoured vehicles, machine guns and other combat equipment in a debut appearance at a major European arms fair on Monday, flexing its growing muscles as a global exporter.

The arrival of six Chinese defence companies at Eurosatory, the world’s largest arms fair for land weaponry, contrasted with a European Union ban on arms sales to China. However, France, which is hosting the event, said it did not violate the boycott. “It’s the biggest terrestrial arms salon in the world and it is logical that our Chinese friends should come here to present their products,” French Defence Minister Herve Morin said.

Jean-Marie Fardeau, director of the Paris branch of Human Rights Watch, expressed surprise at the presence of Chinese arms companies and reaffirmed support for the EU ban on selling weapons to China, which was imposed following a bloody crackdown on student protestors in Beijing’s Tianenmen Square in 1989.

France has called for the 21-year-old boycott on the sale of lethal weapons to China to be lifted.

The Eurosatory arms show, held every two years outside Paris and closed to the public, is a shopping arcade for everything from handcuffs to tanks and brings together arms makers, government buyers and military chiefs from over 130 countries.

The show opened with a sales pitch on behalf of French arms firms promoting defences against roadside bombs on an Afghan-style film set, watched by gold-braided military delegations and executives from over 100 countries. “We’re happy to be here from a business point of view,” said Weimin Ding, deputy director of China North Industries Corp (NORINCO).

Products displayed in real life or in photos on the Chinese exhibition stands included armoured vehicles from NORINCO and machine guns, grenade launchers and portable ground-to-air missiles from Poly Technologies of Beijing. Some western executives have quietly expressed concern that Chinese firms could use the event to sneak a peak at competitors’ technology. Chinese officials dismissed this. “We are here to see our customers. We don’t copy, we only do our job,” said Tan Ziwei, deputy director of the China XinXing Import & Export Corp, which makes uniforms and camouflaged combat gear.

About a dozen Quaker protestors held a peaceful demonstration outside the Eurosatory event, displaying banners in French reading “Peace is obtained by justice not arms”.