U.S. and European officials have sought to persuade China to take a more conciliatory approach in Darfur, saying that China was needlessly drawing attention to itself even though other countries such as Russia, Belarus and Ukraine were supplying Sudan with deadlier and more advanced weapons, including attack helicopters.
Council diplomats said that while Chinese diplomats in New York recognize the futility of their response, they have been hemmed in by hard-liners in Beijing, particularly within the People’s Liberation Army, which oversees China’s arms exports. Council diplomats also say they remain unsure how much control China’s diplomats have over China’s arms trade.
Last September, the Canadian newspaper Globe and Mail reported that it had obtained documents showing that Libyan officials met with Chinese companies to buy arms on July 11, 2011, several months after the council had imposed an arms embargo on Libya.
The Foreign Ministry in China, which had voted in favor of the Libya sanctions, said the contacts had taken place without the government’s knowledge. They said no arms were delivered, and that they would strictly implement the Libya sanctions.
“The PLA has a very powerful voice at the table, and on some of the arms issues what we hear is, this might look like benign munitions in country X but this is going to set people off in our capital,” according to a Security Council diplomat who has worked closely with the Chinese. “The Chinese get extremely sensitive.”
In practice, China has shown the “minimum amount of effort” in enforcing arms embargoes it supports at the Security Council, the official added. “Get them off the record and they say, ‘Look, we have been subjected to sanctions ourselves.’ ”
The United States has sought to assuage Chinese sensitivities by granting Beijing and other key powers greater political control over U.N. investigators enforcing sanctions. In 2009, for instance, the Obama administration proposed inviting the Chinese, along with the council’s other permanent members, plus South Korea and Japan, to appoint their own national experts to enforce sanctions against North Korea.
Beijing’s diplomats have worked assiduously to limit the experts’ ability to do their jobs, pressing for budget cuts that would curb their ability to travel to carry out investigations and attend specialist conferences. China has refused numerous requests by the North Korea panel to visit Beijing to discuss its own efforts to enforce sanctions, and it blocked the publication of the panel’s annual report in 2011.
“It has had a bit of a chilling effect,” said a council diplomat. “It has made the panels a little gun-shy because their reports might not see the light of day if they are too blunt.”
U.S. and European diplomats said that despite Chinese reticence, they have been able to leverage U.N. sanctions, particularly in places like Iran and North Korea, to reinforce U.S. and European sanctions, and to apply pressure on countries that do business with them. “The fact that the panels exist has given a jolt to [Western efforts] to enforce these sanctions and that is a positive thing,” said the council diplomat.
Western diplomats say that they have also succeeded in gradually convincing China to expose itself to greater scrutiny. This year, China allowed the release of the North Korea panel’s 2012 report, which documented the role of China’s Dalian port as a trans-shipment point for luxury goods entering North Korea in violation of U.N. sanctions.
They also noted the mysterious appearance of a new KN-08 portable missile launcher on the back of a truck during parade celebrating the 100th anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s birth. However, they said, the suspected supplier of the missile launcher — China — was excised from the final report.