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June 8, 2004

June 8, 2004 | News Releases on

China Arms Sales Would be a Mistake for Britain's Blair, Experts Say

WASHINGTON, JUNE 8, 2004-France wants the European Union to lift its ban on arms sales to China, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair is reportedly close to going along.

But, according to two experts at The Heritage Foundation-one a China specialist, the other a former aide to Lady Margaret Thatcher-such a move would weaken Britain's "special relationship" with the United States. Moreover, it would hurt European (including British) defense manufacturers, who could be cut off from U.S. military technology.

Blair has sought to be both a "good European" in the view of EU countries and a counterweight to attempts by France and Germany to position the EU as a geopolitical rival of the United States. To the first end, he has backed Britain adopting the Euro as its currency, called for Britain to sign the European constitution and supported France's request for an EU defense identity. To the second, he has been the most vocal non-U.S. supporter of the war in Iraq.

The experts, Nile Gardiner, specialist in U.S.-Britain relations, and John Tkacik, veteran Asia analyst, say this time Blair needs to lean toward the United States. China's defense budget is growing-it's now the third largest in the world, estimated at $50 billion to $70 billion this year-and would enable Beijing to use EU weapons and technology as part of its aggressive campaign to modernize its military.

But it's not just that, according to Gardiner and Tkacik. The ban was enacted 15 years ago after China cracked down on pro-democracy demonstrations at Tiananmen Square. China's human rights record has shown little improvement since. "To lift the ban would dishonor the victims of Tiananmen and effectively give the Chinese a blank check to crush internal dissent as it sees fit in the future," they say.

Moreover, U.S. law requires that America defend Taiwan should China attack-still a credible threat if Chinese pronouncements are to be believed. That could lead to American soldiers facing weapons developed here and in the EU. France and Germany support selling not only components but complete weapons systems containing some of the most advanced military technology on earth.

Gardiner and Tkacik call this unacceptable. They recommend that the president:

  • Convey to Prime Minister Blair the gravity of the proposed EU action and warn that the move could create tension between Washington and European capitals, including his own.
  • Place the embargo at the top of the agenda for any future NATO ministerial meetings since the alliance is based on "collective self-defense."
  • Urge Congress to enact a five-year ban on Pentagon purchases from foreign defense companies that sell China items similar to those found to the U.S. Munitions List for five years.

"As Taiwan pushes forward with democracy, it's impossible to know when China will decide it has had enough and try to rein in the Taiwanese militarily," the Heritage experts say. "The EU may not care about Taiwan, but it supposedly does care about human rights. And lifting this ban will significantly weaken the international campaign to advance human rights in China."

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