This weekend there was a further intensification of police violence against campaigners in Hong Kong. Over the past two months, police officers have attacked pro-democracy protesters using teargas, CS grenades, batons and small arms. More than 1,000 rounds of tear gas and 160 rubber bullets have been used since June, with human rights monitors accusing the authorities of beating protesters and applying “excessive and unnecessary force”.
It is likely that many of the weapons being used were made in the UK: the Omega Research Foundation has published photos of UK-made CS grenades deployed by Hong Kong police against crowds. Since 2015, the UK government has licensed £8.6m worth of arms to the Hong Kong administration. This includes licences for teargas, anti-riot shields, pyrotechnic ammunition, spying technology and other equipment that could be used in the crackdown.
It’s not the first time UK-made teargas has been used by the Hong Kong authorities: it was also used against the “umbrella movement” in 2014. At the time, the UK said it would reconsider its policies in light of the attacks. But as soon as the violence was out of the headlines it was back to business as usual. Within months, the arms sales had begun again.
UK export rules state that arms export licences should not be issued where there is a clear risk of the weapons being used for internal repression. Yet all of the most recent exports had been licensed by the UK government despite the previous use of teargas against peaceful protesters in Hong Kong.
That is why many in Hong Kong and the UK had trouble taking seriously the claim in June of Jeremy Hunt, then foreign secretary, that no more sales would be allowed without a guarantee that they would not be used for repression. These weapons can only be used for repression – they have no other purpose. Read more