House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other US lawmakers have again prodded the US to revoke the export license for the Hong Kong police after the British Foreign Office stated in June it would reassess future export permits of tear gas and rubber bullets to the city’s police force.
The European Parliament has also expressed concern in a resolution calling for export controls to deny Hong Kong access to technologies that could be used to violate basic human rights.
The backdrop of these remarks is the Hong Kong police’s riot contingent has fired more than 1,800 canisters of tear gas at protesters who have joined numerous demonstrations, either approved or unapproved, against a now suspended China extradition bill since June.
The tear gas fired in the streets of Hong Kong to stop protesters from charging police cordons was mostly imported from the UK and US.
Now there have been reports that munitions and materiel manufacturers in China have been quick to ratchet up production to fill the potential void in supply, even though no mainland companies are on the Hong Kong police’s list of authorized suppliers.
China-made tear gas has been used to disperse protesters around the globe, in anti-government rallies in Sudan and Venezuela and in demonstrations against vote-rigging and clampdowns on press freedom in Thailand and Pakistan, according to the South China Morning Post and the paper.com, a Shanghai-based news portal.
These reports say China’s production and export of tear gas and other crowd control weapons would surge, though the suppliers, usually maintaining close ties with the Chinese public security ministry as well as the People’s Liberation Army, may be seen in an unflattering light as cashing in on the unrest of many countries where protesters are choked or even temporarily incapacitated by the pungent smell of the acidic smoke.
Another reason for the boom is that the chemicals used to produce tear gas can expire one or two years after production, so security forces at home and abroad need to replenish their stocks on a regular basis.
For instance, a manufacturer in the eastern province of Jiangsu churned out more than 20,000 tear gas grenades last year as orders continued to pile up.
Tear gas is popular with law enforcement forces worldwide because it is cheap, easy to fire and generally non-lethal. Tear gas is also allowed by the Chemical Weapons Convention for domestic riot control and policing, meaning no international laws restricting its exports.
China also produces other so-called “non-lethal” weapons including water cannons, acoustic and electromagnetic devices for crowd control for the nation’s own law enforcement agencies and has a few buyers from overseas.
Earlier this month, Chinese police officers and riot squad members also fired tear gas, likely domestically made, at their colleagues acting as protesters in mock riots in Shenzhen, in what some saw as a tacit warning to troublemakers in Hong Kong.