The Heritage Foundation

WebMemo #309 on Asia

July 3, 2003

July 3, 2003 | WebMemo on Asia

Responding to a Paris-Beijing Arms Axis

France's recent overture to China as a prospective member of a Paris-led multi-national alignment against the United States and its European Allies should be met with a swift and stern response, as well as a re-assessment of standing defense and trade agreements with those who would boost Beijing's military capabilities.

 

France's Overture to China
At a June 30 news conference in Beijing, French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said France would urge the European Union to relax its restrictions on exports of arms and military technology to China that were linked to Beijing's suppression of the 1989 Tiananmen democracy movement.

 

Her comments came just before a meeting with Chinese strongman Jiang Zemin, chairman of China's Central Military Commission, who praised Alliot-Marie's idea and said together with France, China would "work for a new international order" (i.e., a global political structure that would challenge American preeminence).

 

The French defense minister also said France will seek more interaction between top Chinese and French military commanders, exchanges between their military academies, and observers at each other's military exercises. She added that France would seek cooperation in non-combat aerospace projects such as joint development of helicopters.

 

A Paris-Beijing alignment is not surprising. The Iraq debate in the U.N. led to a major realignment of European powers into two distinct camps; the French-led Paris-Berlin-Moscow axis against the pro-American London-Rome-Madrid-Warsaw entente. The French are adept at playing global power games without necessarily possessing global power.

 

This latest overture by the French Defense Minister is another step in Paris's attempt to forge a global French-led counter-American coalition, this time to include China. Sino-French arms cooperation of the sort proposed by Minister Alliot-Marie would undermine U.S. interests in the Western Pacific and the security of our allies and friends in the region that are in the shadow of China's growing military power.

 

China as a Rising Threat

For its part, China hopes to build on the Paris-Moscow-Berlin axis in an effort to counter Washington's growing international influence. The prospect of the declining powers of "Old Europe" joining with China, the rising military power in Asia, should disturb Washington's policy-makers. Given China's stepped-up missile deployments on the Taiwan Strait, its increased patrols in the South China Sea, and its regular harassment of American naval aircraft and ships in international waters, China is clearly becoming more aggressive, not less.

 

And in view of China's provision of military hardware, components and technology to rogue states such as Iran, North Korea, Syria, Libya and Burma, France's desire to sell China arms is reckless. Moreover, China is building its own military into Asia's strongest with massive purchases of advanced jet fighters, submarines, destroyers, missiles and heavy-lift rocket technology from Russia. China's estimated annual defense budget is now on the order of $65 billion, making it the second-largest military spender in the world after the United States.

 

What Congress and the Administration Should Do

France's newfound friend in Beijing and its ostensible promise to arm China is a direct challenge to the United States and peace and stability in the Pacific that cannot go unaddressed. If France decides to go forward with military equipment and technology cooperation with China, the Administration and Congress should:

  • Remind both France and the European Union of America's strategic concerns regarding the provision of military equipment to China and caution all parties against actions that directly or indirectly threaten U.S. forces, friends, and allies in the region.
  • Immediately cease direct bilateral missile-defense cooperation with France and any European missile defense partner that relaxes export bans on military technology to China.
  • Complete the "comprehensive assessment" of the effectiveness of U.S. defense trade policies begun in November 2002. The Administration must ensure that those policies continue to maintain America's technological and war-fighting advantages over its potential adversaries, while facilitating friends' and allies' efforts to increase capability and interoperability.
  • Reexamine U.S. export licensing policies for defense technology and equipment to countries that sell arms to China.

About the Author

John J. Tkacik, Jr. Senior Research Fellow
Asian Studies Center