A European Union
defense team visits Washington this week (March 14-19) to explain a
proposal to lift its Tiananmen Square arms embargo on China. From
an American perspective, for both human rights and security
reasons, the European policy shift is a bad idea. And if the
European press is any indication of public sentiment, the vast
majority of Europeans also believe that lifting the arms embargo is
Against Lifting Embargo
Since December, European newspapers have run at least 70
different commentaries about the China arms embargo - the vast
majority strongly against lifting it. The influential German
newspaper Frankfurter Allegemeine called the decision
"dangerous." The Berliner Zeitung was dumfounded at the
E.U.'s eagerness to sell weapons to Beijing and despaired, "China,
China, China … We are watching, flabbergasted, the unanimous
motions of the Peoples' Congress in Beijing" that call for
unleashing war against Taiwan. Austria's influential Die
Presse asked, "even if we disregard the U.S. warnings, is it
really wise to open the E.U. arms floodgates to China?"
parliamentarians are strongly opposed, too. In October 28, the
German Parliament, including the vast majority of Chancellor
Gerhard Schroeder's own Social Democrats and virtually all of
Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer's Greens, passed a resolution
opposing Schroeder's attempts to lift the embargo. On November 19,
the European Parliament passed a similar resolution 572 votes
against 72. And on March 11, leaders of the four German political
parties representing Germany in the European Parliament sent an
open letter to Schroeder urging him to abandon his support for
China arms sales.
The lifting of the
arms embargo against China even violates standing E.U. policy.
European countries already have in force a voluntary "Code of
Conduct" which bans military sales to countries like China:
- countries that
violate internationally-recognized political and civil rights;
- countries which
threaten "regional stability";
- countries which
may threaten the national security of E.U. members "or their
- countries which
might re-export European defense articles of technologies without
prior license; or
- countries which
would be likely to reverse-engineer imported European equipment or
software or otherwise.
Why Is E.U.
The E.U. say lifting the embargo would send a "political
signal" to China that Europe wants China to "participate
responsibly" in the international community in a way befitting a
permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, as well as
"build trust" with China. But many Europeans wonder what kind of
political signal it sends when China just passed a law legitimizing
the use of "nonpeaceful means" against Taiwan. Shouldn't China show
progress on human rights by releasing at least a few Tiananmen
prisoners? Couldn't China permit Catholics to worship freely? What
about ending Internet censorship? Shouldn't China be required
to do something such as ratify additional U.N. human rights
covenants? Tragically, the E.U. leadership (?) apparently don't
rationale behind the E.U. commissioners' proposal hasn't gotten any
more intelligible, so rather than argue about the wisdom of lifting
the ban, Euro-crats make the following three pledges -- none of
which is achievable:
- Lifting the
embargo will not increase weapons sales to China. Yet last
month, French defense minister Mme. Michele Alliot-Marie indicated
that France, at least, did intend to sell weapons to China.
Alliot-Marie explained her reasoning thus: "So maybe if we can sell
them the arms, they will not make them. And in five years' time,
they will not have the technology to make them." Aside from the
illogic of the remark, France seems already bent on selling weapons
to China. According to E.U. statistics, European countries
interpret the embargo ever more loosely. In 2001, E.U. countries
issued licenses for about $81 million worth of arms exports to
China. In 2003, that number increased six-fold to $555 million,
with exports from France accounting for over one-third at $222
- The E.U. is in
the process of strengthening the existing "Code of Conduct."
This process would result in an even tighter arms sales regime.
Yet, the "Code of Conduct" remains a work in progress, as does the
so-called "tool box" which is supposed to codify China-specific
arms policies. Nor is there any indication that the E.U. truly
intends that a code and "tool box" will be in place and enforceable
by the time the embargo is dropped.
Europe says it will not give up the embargo "for free."
The E.U. will insist that Beijing make certain "commitments" to
improve its human rights behavior such as freeing the Tiananmen
prisoners, abolishing the death penalty, suspending extra-judicial
"re-education through labor" sentences, and continuing the
E.U.-China "human rights dialogue". Yet, following the E.U.-China
Summit in Brussels on December 8, E.U. officials hinted that China
needed to take "concrete steps" in human rights to help justify
easing the embargo. As early as the following week, Beijing's
"concrete steps" included ordering the arrest of a prominent
Protestant pastor in Zhengzhou. Since then, police have
detained three dissident writers, arrested a Catholic bishop and
several other human rights activists and journalists. The post-E.U.
crackdown on intellectuals intensified after the mid-January death
of former Premier Zhao Ziyang who was purged in 1989 for supporting
the democracy movement-certainly a sign that freeing the Tiananmen
prisoners will not happen anytime soon. Moreover, on March 14,
Premier Wen Jiabao told China's parliament that China "cannot"
abolish the death penalty due to the country's "national
conditions." Thus, it is painfully obvious that the E.U. will get
precisely nothing, other than additional commercial contracts, in
return for lifting the ban.
European public opinion and mass media strongly oppose lifting the
arms ban on China. If the European diplomats in Washington this
week are not willing to heed American counsel, their administration
and congressional interlocutors should suggest that they at least
listen to their own citizens. After all, the European Union's
members are still democracies.
John J. Tkacik,
Jr., is Research Fellow in China Policy in the Asian Studies Center
at The Heritage Foundation.