Even though China had significant hunger of arms during the 80's, the USA pulled out of joint cooperations, and banned arms export to China citing the reason of violent crackdown of Tienanmen Square protest. I am curious to know why that ban was never lifted.

If human rights were so important, what about the export of arms to Saudis, and alliance to India. Why weren't the human rights track records of Saudi Arabia and India checked before approving arms sales?

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    Because not enough important domestic constituencies made a stink about KSA's human rights issues for the government to start caring enough to offset their desire to see KSA buy US arms, for both financial and geopolitical reasons. The calculus with PRC fell on the other side of that line. </cynic>
    – user4012
    Jun 28, 2017 at 13:58
  • China is not an ally of the United States and we stand diametrically opposed on many issues. In fact, they're aggressively attacking US infrastructure every hour of every day. Jun 29, 2017 at 14:32

4 Answers 4


The largest reason is likely the growing saber rattling of China over the South China Sea, where they have built several military support bases and continue to be aggressive with their military

China claims sovereignty of virtually all of the South China Sea. The country has aggressively tried to fortify its foothold by turning seven mostly submerged reefs into island outposts, some with runways and radars and, more recently, weapons systems.

The man-made islands are primarily for civilian purposes and to increase safety for ships, China claims. The superpower has said it won't interfere with freedom of navigation or overflight.

However, there have been questions about if that includes military ships and aircraft.

The work is opposed by the other claimants to the atolls and the United States. They're wary of restrictions on ship movements in a key waterway for world trade.

Selling weapons to an aggressive country you might be involved in an armed conflict with doesn't make sense.

As to why we sell to the Saudis and India?

  1. These are strategic alliances
  2. If we do not work with them, they will buy weapons from other countries (like Russia), and possibly form strategic alliances with them instead
  • This is a total BS answer. The embargo was placed due to Tiananmen Square protest. The dispute of South China Sea came into limelight in 2008. If I take 1989-2000 into account, the arms embargo made no sense.
    – user4514
    Jun 28, 2017 at 17:33

It is a matter for the USA and the EU who they want to sell arms to. If the EU don't see a benefit in selling arms to China, then it is within their rights to choose not to. However, I will discuss some of the background:

In 1989 there was a violent end to the Tiananmen Square Protests, in which the Chinese government and Chinese army killed many hundred of its own citizens with assault rifles and tanks.

The scale of this event, occurring outside of war, in a country with a stable government is unprecedented in modern times. There has been a continuity of Government since the killings. The Government of China has not expressed an apology, or regret for the killings. In these circumstances, it is reasonable to suppose that the Chinese government, placed in a similar situation, would act the same way.

It would be unacceptable to many in the EU and USA for weapons to be used for killing protestors in this way, and aware of this the EU and USA continue to prevent arms exports to China.

The Human Rights record in Saudi Arabia is poor, and many are opposed to arms sales to the Saudi government, however, there has not been a major massacre of protesters in Saudi Arabia that is comparable.

  • ... and since India is killing Muslims in Kashmir, EU and USA do not need to take that into account (!!!). Since you haven't mentioned anything about India, I think this should be your possible argument.
    – user4514
    Jun 28, 2017 at 17:38
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    @anonymous You are mistaken in thinking that I am making an argument. I am trying to answer a question. I don't mention India since I don't know enough about Indian politics.
    – James K
    Jun 28, 2017 at 20:37

Anyway, I got my answer from this article.

... In early 2004, French President Jacques Chirac spearheaded a movement within the EU to lift the ban, which was supported by German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. However, the passing of the Anti-Secession Law of the People's Republic of China in March 2005 increased tensions between mainland China and Taiwan, damaging attempts to lift the ban, and several EU Council members retracted their support for a lift of the ban.


(update): The arms embargo is anything but cosmetic. It doesn't hurt US and EU industries. In addition, US still need China to restraint Russia, so it is all about pragmatic.

China also the world major arms exporter, beginning from the 80's. The arms ban doesn't hurt the US and EU economy.

In addition, no matter where the high-tech weapons is made, the producers receive heavy subsidies from the government, there is little "market competition" because assault/defense weapons is not basic necessity post WW2. So it is also a good excuses to prevent ease of access on technology for reverse engineering(and develope countermeasure).

Here is some fun fact about the weapon ban hypocricy: the "Made in China " CAC FC-1 Xiaolong parts came from UK (pilot eject), France(missile guidance), Italy (fire guidance).

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    There's a lot of opinion here, without anything to support it. Can you add some sources to back this up?
    – Machavity
    Jun 28, 2017 at 16:05
  • China's emergence as an arms exporter is relatively new. If I take 1989-2000 into account, the arms embargo made no sense.
    – user4514
    Jun 28, 2017 at 17:30
  • @mootmoot, when did they start exporting missiles? Is it before the embargo or after the embargo?
    – user4514
    Jun 29, 2017 at 15:27
  • Dear @anonymous, why don't you post your own "wish list answer" .
    – mootmoot
    Jun 29, 2017 at 15:44

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