China today cut down exports of large dredgers used for reclamation work over fears that foreign countries could use these heavy machines for dredging oceans to build artificial islands and military bases taking cue from Beijing’s island-building activities in the disputed South China Sea. The State Council or China’s Cabinet must approve exports of five models of large dredgers, the Ministry of Commerce said in a notice, adding the move aims to protect the country’s national security. Dredgers with a large carrying capacity and installed power and can dig more than 15 meters deep are covered under the export restrictions, state-run Global Times quoted the notice as saying. Exporters of these types of dredgers must register with the ministry and apply for approval if they intend to export the equipment, it said.
Dredgers are widely used for building and expanding artificial islands, ports and other marine construction. The notice said the ministry will decide within 45 working days whether to approve exports of the restricted models after exporters submit the required documents, including the applicants’ ID certificates, contracts and the dredgers’ technical specifications. “Dredgers can be used for building civil facilities, such as artificial islands and ports, but could also used to build military facilities. China recognises the potential risks of foreign countries using such equipment to build military facilities, and targeted export restrictions can help reduce the risk,” Liu Feng, an expert on Chinese maritime issues told the daily.
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“China is not the first country to impose such export restrictions. Other countries, especially the US and those in Europe, restrict the export of high-end equipment and technologies. China’s export restrictions are in line with international practices and norms, and should be no cause for criticism,” Liu said. China has been building artificial islands in the South China Sea, which China sees as defending its historical territory. Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Taiwan too have counter claims over the area.
“The latest restrictions highlight China’s growing security awareness. With advanced dredging technology and rich experience in dredging work, China should give more consideration to security issues,” Bai Ming, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation, said. “Apart from security concerns, China will also consider the impact of large dredgers used by foreign buyers on altering the flow of rivers and the geographical environment. So it should regulate exports to prevent environmental risks,” Bai said. “The restrictions are mainly applied to large dredgers for special purposes. The impact on civil dredger exporters will be limited,” Bai said.