UK firm that sold teargas to Hong Kong to review sales policy



A British company which sold teargas to Hong Kong has told the Guardian it will review its sales policy after a series of attacks on unarmed protesters in the former British colony.

Whitehall officials also made it clear they would re-evaluate their policy if they were asked to approve future export licences for teargas to Hong Kong.

The foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, said the UK government did not condone the use of CS gas – a type of teargas – against the protesters. But he said the canisters being used by the Chinese riot police were a legitimate export. He told the BBC Daily Politics show: “CS gas is available from large numbers of sources around the world. To be frank, I think that is a rather immaterial point. They could buy CS gas from the US.”

Chemring, based in Romsey, Hampshire, has sold the crowd-control weapon to the former British colony for several years under export licences approved by the British government.

The Campaign Against the Arms Trade, CAAT, said the UK had granted six licences worth £180,000 to sell teargas to Hong Kong in the past four years, as police stockpiled canisters. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said it did not comment on individual companies. However, it is understood that the CS gas covered by the licences over recent years has all been exported to Hong Kong.

Chemring told the Guardian it acted “in accordance with, and is heavily regulated by the UK government”. It added that its sales were therefore “ultimately controlled by the UK government through the issue of export licences, and end-user certificates”. It said it could not comment on what its future policies may be as a result of the situation in Hong Kong but it would clearly review them.

A government spokesperson said: “We rigorously examine every licence application on a case-by-case basis against the international exporting criteria and will take the current Hong Kong disturbances into account in assessing future export licence applications.”

Andrew Smith of CAAT said: “Chemring may well have sold the gas, but they couldn’t have done it without the government’s support. It is clear that UK weapons are being used on peaceful protesters. The government needs to conduct a full investigation of what UK arms are being used. It should also immediately cancel all current licences and end arms sales to Hong Kong.”

According to Chemring’s website: “The rubber bursting CS grenade is a more advanced means of creating a cloud of CS smoke. On activation the rubber bag bursts dispersing a series of burning CS submunitions over a wide area. These submunitions are small but highly effective and defeat any attempt to return the payload to the law enforcement officer.”

Chemring confirmed it had also supplied CS gas to Egypt in 1998, under licence from the government, but had not exported the product to Egypt since then.

Other countries for which Britain has licensed the sale of teargas produced by British companies include the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Jordan and Pakistan.