March 28, 2005

March 28, 2005 | Commentary on Europe

Euro Embargo Imbroglio

Undeterred by reality, commonsense or even the vehement, growing opposition of their own citizens and media, German and French leaders persist in demanding an end to the European Union's 16-year arms embargo on China.

They pressed ahead even after other E.U. nations - Britain, Belgium, Sweden, the Netherlands and Italy - expressed alarm over Beijing's menacing stance on Taiwan and its blatant failure to commit to improving human rights for its 1.3 billion citizens.

Chomping at the bit to turbo-charge commercial and diplomatic ties with Asia's rising giant, last year the E.U. agreed - in principle - to lift the arms ban against China, imposed after the infamous June 1989 crackdown on democracy protestors in Tiananmen Square.

The United States fears that lifting the ban would accelerate China's unprecedented military build up, threaten democratic Taiwan and send the wrong signal to repressive regimes everywhere.

The E.U. originally planned to lift the embargo by the end of June - but Beijing's heavy-handed passing of an anti-secession law directed at Taiwan earlier this month, has (quite rightly) given some Europeans significant pause.

The new law allows China to use military force to block any Taiwanese independence bid, thus compelling the "renegade" province's eventual unification with Beijing.

But Beijing's chest-beating didn't unsettle everyone. "Nothing has changed, and nothing has changed in my position," German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder countered last week when asked about the embargo.

The French, who have been leading the charge to lift the embargo, have made no secret that they see expanding trade and diplomatic ties with China as a way of balancing America's so-called "hyperpower."

French President Jacques Chirac argues that lifting the ban won't result in more European weapons for China - since such sales are already restricted by existing European national and E.U. laws.

"The Europeans have no intention of launching a policy of arms exports to China, which is not asking for this . . . what the Europeans want to do is normalize relations with China," Chirac bloviated last week.

What Chirac didn't mention is that E.U. arms sales to China have doubled, from $250 million in '03 to $500 million in '04 despite the current ban. Sure seems like somebody in Europe wants to sell weapons to China.

French logic gets even more pathetic, though: Last month, Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie mused that selling China arms was a good idea: "Maybe if we [the Europeans] can sell [the Chinese] arms, they will not make them [themselves], and in five years' time, they will not have the technology to make them."

Guess no one told Alliot-Marie about the 700 domestically-produced ballistic missiles China already has bore-sighted on Taiwan.

Making these remarks seem even more . . . well, wacky, is the fact that China is "dissing" Europe on other fronts, too.

The Europeans hoped that the 2,984 (unelected) members of the China's National People's Congress would ratify the U.N.'s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights during its recent annual meeting. Moreover, they expected that Beijing would release some Tiananmen Square political dissidents from jail as a goodwill gesture.

Under fierce criticism at home and abroad over China's human-rights record, E.U. leaders were hoping to demonstrate that China's human-rights situation was improving. But thinking it had the arms-embargo problem all sewn up, Beijing "obliged" its "Euro-pals" by neither ratifying the U.N. covenant - nor releasing any political prisoners.

Despite this diplomatic head-slap, some Euros were unfazed. Last week, E.U. foreign-policy chief Javier Solana said China was making progress on human rights, deserving of an end to the ban. "It is not justified to maintain it [the embargo] . . . things are moving [on human rights]," he claimed.

The obvious question: Things may be moving, but in which direction?

Putting aside the importance of improving human rights in China, the most immediate problem is that the Europeans refuse to bear any responsibility for the security situation in Asia or for deterring Chinese aggression against Taiwan. So, if the Chinese decide to invade Taiwan, it'll be the United States - not the Europeans - that has to help Taiwan defend itself. But with large E.U.-China business deals hanging in the balance, it's full-steam ahead on lifting the embargo even if it means cashiering peace, stability - and democratic Taiwan.

Lifting the E.U. arms embargo on China is a bad idea. It's high time for those Europeans who oppose lifting the ban to stand up to the bullying French and Germans.

A failure to do so will not only put a hard frost on warming transatlantic relations, but also demonstrate that crass commercialism is more important to Europe than security, human rights or democracy.

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

About the Author

Peter Brookes Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

First appeared in the New York Post