March 17, 2005 | WebMemo on Asia
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 counterproductive.
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?"
European 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:
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 think so.
The public 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:
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.