July 19, 2004

July 19, 2004 | Commentary on Middle East

Arming China

The French and the Ger mans are trying to stick it to us again. No, not over Iraq - over China.

The 25-nation European Union (EU), led by Paris and Berlin, is giving serious consideration to lifting the post-Tiananmen Square arms embargo against Beijing.

Even though we've made our objections perfectly clear, from President Bush on down. (America's top Pacific allies, Japan and Australia, have also protested.)

This means that at some point in the future, the weapons of European allies may be used against American forces in the Pacific over the defense of Taiwan, Japan or even South Korea.

There are several reasons why ending the sanctions is foolhardy:

* Human Rights. Both the U.S. and EU imposed the embargo after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, where 3,000 peaceful democracy demonstrators died at the hands of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA). Beijing has yet to come clean on this matter, and human-rights problems abound. Just in 2004, Chinese security services harassed and detained the justice-seeking mothers of Tiananmen Square victims, political activists and Internet users.

Lifting the ban would send the wrong signal to other repressive regimes. China's human-rights record certainly doesn't merit a reward.

Moreover, China's army still has a domestic-security mission, meaning EU arms could be used to suppress political dissent across China, especially in Buddhist Tibet and Muslim Xinjiang (western China.)

* Military Threat. China is engaged in a major military buildup that goes far beyond its defensive needs. In the next few years, China will develop real military options for muscling its democratic neighbor Taiwan (which Beijing considers a renegade province). Down the road, China looks toward dominating Japan and Southeast Asia, too.

And who really knows where Beijing will come down if South and North Korea come to blows? (The last Korean War might be a good indicator . . .)

Ultimately, the PLA's long-term, military modernization game plan is to deter, delay or deny U.S. intervention in any Asian conflict involving China. Beyond that, the PLA seeks to ultimately replace America as the preeminent military power in the Pacific.

* Weapons Proliferation. China is a notorious weapons proliferator - from weapons of mass destruction to small arms. Its record on export controls is abysmal. Sensitive European technology will surely fall into the hands of China's roguish friends: Iran, North Korea, Syria and Burma.

So why are the Europeans doing this?

Two reasons: To balance American global power and - tah dah! - to make money.

Paris and Berlin have long pushed for a multipolar world, in which the United States' overwhelming power is balanced (read: weakened) by other power centers (i.e., poles) such as the EU, China and Russia.

In practice, France and Germany, instead of spreading power, intend to align these other poles in a political axis against America.

Making China more powerful in Asia will stretch U.S. resources (and perhaps resolve) and distract Washington from its interests in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere, leaving Paris and Berlin to call the shots.

The EU leaders' other goal here is to compete with the United States in the world's arms market. The sheer quality of U.S. arms makes it tough to compete globally, so the best strategy is to go places where the Americans aren't, such as China - which is a $5 billion per year cash (arms) cow.

The Chinese, who applaud the EU's policy shift, are hungry for advanced European submarine, aviation, space and missile systems and technology. (Again, think about the possibility of secondary weapons proliferation to Iran, Syria and North Korea.) Beijing would also like to drive a wedge into the trans-Atlantic alliance.

The United States welcomes China's peaceful integration into the international community as an open and free society through commerce, tourism, academic exchanges and official dialogue. These activities maximize the free world's efforts to encourage positive political and social change for 1.3 billion Chinese.

But we must also consider the dark side of China's rise - its military buildup - and the effect on regional and global peace and security.

The EU's decision to change course on China is counterproductive and counterintuitive, but not surprising: Europe's security interests in Asia are minimal and, hey, there's cash to be made.

But if the EU goes ahead, our government should stop the flow of U.S. military technology to European firms.

In the end, the EU's folly will further increase the trans-Atlantic divide, give an imprimatur to dismal human-rights records everywhere and increase the likelihood of conflict in the Pacific, which is no one's interest - not even the distant EU's.

Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow. E-mail: peterbrookes@heritage.org

About the Author

Peter Brookes Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
The Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy

First appeared in the New York Post