China’s accession to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) is a done deal. The decision was approved at a legislative session of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee on June 20, marking the completion of the domestic legal procedures necessary for the accession. China will formally become a state party to the ATT once approved by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres.
Approved by vote at the 67th UN General Assembly in 2013 and coming into effect on December 24 the following year, the ATT is designed to regulate the international arms trade and to combat the illicit transfer and trafficking of conventional weapons. The pact aims to alleviate global and regional instability as well as humanitarian crises caused by the abuse of the arms trade. By June, the treaty had garnered 106 state parties.
China’s top legislature’s approval of the decision to join the treaty is another important measure of China’s involvement in the governance of the world arms trade, as well as its commitment to safeguarding regional and global stability. It shows China’s focus on supporting multilateralism, safeguarding the existing international arms control system and building a community with a shared future for humanity.
China already employs strict systems governing the export of weapons. In 1997, the Regulations of the People’s Republic of China Governing Export Control of Military Goods was introduced. According to Article 5 of this regulation, the export of military goods is to: (1) be instrumental to the just self-defense capabilities of the acceptor nation; (2) not be detrimental to peace, security and stability in the region concerned and the world; (3) not interfere in the internal affairs of the acceptor nation
As a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a responsible global power, China has a long history of involvement in the construction of an international conventional arms control system. The country has always been cautious in its approach toward the arms trade, and has never depended on the sale of weapons as a crucial component of its economy.
China was a participant in the discussion and negotiation processes for the ATT back in 2004. China’s policy on the control of weapon exports is well synchronized with the purpose and goal of the pact.
Accession to the ATT is a testament to China’s support of the UN’s work, its safeguarding of the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, and its broader support for multilateralism. China’s accession will increase the authority of the treaty, helping to maintain regional and global stability and supporting the international arms control system in the process.
International arms control and non-proliferation faces growing challenges. The ATT aims to regulate the global arms trade so that these weapons cannot be used in wars and human rights violations.
Despite signing in September 2013, the U.S. did not complete the legal procedures for accession to the ATT, and never became a state party. On April 26, 2019, President Donald Trump announced that he was revoking the United States’ signature at the annual meeting of the National Rifle Association, stating that the ATT hurt American interests.
The reality is that if the U.S. were to join the ATT, arms dealers in the country would not be able to freely sell arms to conflict zones like Syria and Iraq as they do now, resulting in a significant loss of profit.
Many other countries also fall short in controlling the export of military goods. Some have systems in place, but strict implementation is lacking. Regional instability and humanitarian disasters deriving from the illicit trade and abuse of conventional arms, small arms and light weapons, in particular, pose a major threat to international peace and security. The world is increasingly aware of the role these weapons play.
As a major exporter of arms, China will keep improving its ability to evaluate the sale of weapons, and help acceptor nations to set up import control systems that live up to international standards. Chinese officials will also work to enhance the treaty’s monitoring on the international arms trade, alleviating global and regional instability, as well as the humanitarian crises that arise from its abuse.
With America’s withdrawal threatening to derail efforts to reduce regional conflicts and safeguard human rights, China’s accession can reinvigorate the treaty. The sense of responsibility this represents will benefit all peace-loving nations around the world.