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.
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.