The EU arms embargo on China: An overview

This is not good:

The European Union announced on Tuesday that it intends to bring its 16-year arms embargo against China to an end, much to the regret of visiting US President George W. Bush.

US President George W. Bush expressed “deep concern” on Tuesday about European Union plans to lift an arms embargo on China, saying that it might upset relations between Beijing and Taiwan. His concerns alone are unlikely to be enough to stop the EU from pursuing its goal of ending its ban on arms sales to the People’s Republic.

“With regard to China, Europe intends to remove the last obstacles to its relations with this important country,” French President Jacques Chirac announced after talks with President Bush.

Chirac maintained that the embargo, imposed in 1989 after the brutal suppression of the Tiananmen Square democracy movement, was no longer justified but the EU would ensure its abolition did not change the strategic balance in Asia. He noted that US allies Canada and Australia did not have such restrictions on arms sales to Beijing.

I agree with Lex that it would be a very bad idea to lift the EU’s arms embargo on China, but I disagree that Europe would be acting as an enemy of America if it did so. For if the EU really were an enemy it wouldn’t have imposed the embargo after the massacre in Tiananem place in the first place. The motive is greed, not hostility, and also some serious political considerations. The point is, Britain supports the lifting of the embargo, too:

UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has defended plans to end the European Union’s arms embargo on China, despite opposition from the US and Japan.

China has in the past said it sees the weapons ban as politically driven, and does not want it lifted in order to buy more weapons.
Mr Straw, speaking at a joint news conference with Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, stressed this point.
“The result of any decision [to lift the arms embargo] should not be an increase in arms exports from European Union member states to China, either in quantitative or qualitative terms,” Mr Straw said.
Earlier this week he said he expected the embargo to be lifted within six months.

And let’s not forget that Australia, one of America’s most important allies in Iraq, has lifted its arms embargo a long time ago:

The Australian Government has defended its decision not to back the United States in lobbying the European Union to maintain an arms embargo on China.
The US is pushing for Japan and Australia to encourage Europe not to lift its embargo.
Australia imposed an arms embargo on China in 1989 over the Tiananmen Square massacre, but lifted it in 1992.
Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer says for that reason, it would not make sense for Australia to lobby the Europeans now.
“We could hardly say you mustn’t lift your arms embargo but we have lifted our arms embargo so it’s alright for us but it’s not alright for you,” he said.
“Instead what we’ve said to the European Union is if you’re going to go ahead and lift your arms embargo on China please do so in a way that has no impact on the power balance or the strategic structure of the east Asian region.”

Then again, it has to be pointed out that there also is some serious opposition against lifting the embargo within the EU. The European paliament has voted against it,

A report out on Wednesday [more on that in another post – RG] on weapons exports from the EU casts an unpleasant light on the practices of some countries. The EU Parliament voted against lifting the current weapons embargo against China.

Several member states of the European Union count among the world’s leading weapons exporters, particularly Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Sweden. Weapons policy, however, remains the domain of national governments, and the European Parliament can only advise and suggest. On Wednesday it did just that, debating new restrictions on weapons exports and urging the bloc not to end its arms embargo on China.

Although officially the European Parliament’s hands are tied regarding armaments questions, parliamentarians increasingly see it as their duty to comment on controversial developments.

and so has the German parliament:

Taiwan praised the German Federal Parliament November 5 for passing a resolution opposing the lifting of the European Union’s arms embargo against mainland China. In a statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the move was in compliance with mainstream public opinion and deserves the most positive recognition from the Taiwan government.
The ministry called the international community’s attention to the significance of the move and urged the E U. to continue to maintain its ban on arms sales to China.
The resolution was adopted on Oct. 28 with the support of the ruling coalition Social Democratic Party and the Greens. According to the resolution, the German government is urged to press the E U. to continue to monitor the mainland’s progress on human rights protection and resolving conflicts via peaceful means as the criteria for whether to lift the arms embargo.
The German parliament asked the E.U. to work out binding measures on controlling arms exports by its member nations to China. Before lifting the embargo, the E.U. must also consider China’s progress in complying with the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, protecting human rights and private property and improving the right to self-government of minority ethnic groups in China, the resolution said.
Other considerations should include the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and rocket propulsion materials and technology as well as Beijing’s attitude to a peaceful resolution of cross-Taiwan Strait disputes, it said.

The Chinese were quite unhappy with the timing of this resolution:

It is still too early to work out a timetable for lifting arm sales embargo, says Ding Feiya, a researcher with the Institute of International Studies of China. She said the German parliament had adopted a bill against lifting embargo on China right before [Chinese] Premier Wen’s visit, even though the German government supported the lift.

If resistance proves to be futile a compromise between the US and the EU might also be possible. According to Finacial Times Deutschland (I haven’t found an English article on this yet) the United States could be mollified if the EU passed a strict ‘Code of Conduct’ that all arms exports to China would have to comply with. Other necessary conditions would be an European commitment not to sell anything to China which would change the strategic balance between China and Taiwan, and also that the America would have to be consulted on the sale of certain equipment.

It remains to be seen how all this will play out.

21 thoughts on “The EU arms embargo on China: An overview”

  1. Ralf, thanks for your even-handed overview. Two questions:
    1. Do you think the German Federal Parliament’s November 5 resolution reliably predicts how Germany’s E.U. representative will vote?

    2. Does the EU Parliament’s advisory role in this matter have any *real* influence over the final outcome?

    I’m going to keep one eye pegged to this vote. It will either confirm those Euroskeptics who deride its bureaucracies as unwieldy and undemocratic, or defeat them.


  2. 1) I think it’s the heads of the government who will vote on this, and not the EU Commision. Schröder is unlikely to change his opinion, but other countries will feel encouraged to veto the lifting, even if the majority of governments is in favor.

    2) The EU parliament will be ignored by those who don’t want to hear what it has to say, but its vote will encourage those who are against the lifting of the embargo, too.

    Anyway, it’s unlikely to be voted on before August
    or September.

  3. “but I disagree that Europe would be acting as an enemy of America if it did so. For if the EU really were an enemy it wouldn’t have imposed the embargo after the massacre in Tiananem place in the first place.”

    I’m rationally ignorant about whether they really ARE an enemy, or just stupid, greedy amoral SOBs, but the above doesn’t follow; They could, after all, have BECOME an enemy some time after the embargo began, couldn’t they?

  4. We can save the semantic discusion until the Chinese start killing Americans with their European weapons. At that time it will be more clear which side the Europeans have chosen. In any case, it’s clear we would be foolish assume they would be on our side.

    It’s also going to be interesting to see who is and is not protected by the US ABM system. No doubt the EU will choose to buy one from the Russians.

  5. Brett, Richard,

    nobody over here can really imagine that there could be a shooting war between China and the United Staetes. And it truly is very unlikely, for such a war would flush the world economy right down the toilet, so that nobody wants it, not even the Chinese.

  6. Don’t the folks over there remember the effect of Europe’s wars on the economy of the twentieth century? Do they still teach Norman Angell in school? It is astounding to me that Europeans keep thinking war has a only to do with economics. They should try Thucydides instead.

  7. The idea that having too much to lose isn’t enough to prevent war, but it is one reason to avoid it.
    One point remains, though: If China can’t do business with the United States, it is thoroughly buggered, and will be still worse off than anybody else. It isn’t unrealistic to assume that this will make it behave itself.

  8. Um, I have a question-

    If China says “it sees the weapons ban as politically driven, and does not want it lifted in order to buy more weapons”- then why are they considering lifting the ban?

    And uh Jack-“The result of any decision [to lift the arms embargo] should not be an increase in arms exports from European Union member states to China, either in quantitative or qualitative terms”- then why are you lifting the ban?

    Taiwan must be absolutely freaking out over this, and I don’t blame them. I can’t imagine what OTHER reason China has for wanting the ban lifted other than buy more weapons. This is ludicrous.

  9. There are some indications that British decision to go along with lifting the EU arms embargo relates to congressmen Henry J. Hyde and Duncan Hunterending blocking a UK exemption from rules on special licenses for exporting unclassified military technologies. See Washington Post
    Still a mistake, though.

    Tman: “I can’t imagine what OTHER reason China has for wanting the ban lifted other than buy more weapons.”
    I can. Face.
    I’m not saying it’s so in this case, but with China it’s always a possible factor.

  10. Yes, it works. I can’t display the codes for the special characters here because they are automatically converted into those characters, so you have to look them up yourself. :)

  11. I think it is time to leave Nato. If the European countries cannot see that selling arms to China is an action dramaticly against our interests we should no longer expend any effort defending them.

  12. Thanks Ralf,
    I’m working to make my comments more dynamic in the future, and to link to my sources a whole lot more. Your tips are very helpful towards that end.


  13. Leave NATO? Lord, I think what this discussion is missing is the fact that the current embargo hasnt stopped France and the UK from selling weapons to China for years. The Embargo is a political document that has been interpreted loosly from the start. So even if the embargo stays weapons will continue to goto China. I see this situation as an opportunity because if it is handeled the right way we may end up with a strengthened Arms Code of Conduct that actually limits in concrete the export of high technology to the Chinese, while lifting the embargo that is seen by the Chinese as an association with the likes of Burma. Maybe we can even get them to sign the Covenant on Political and Civil rights.

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