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George W. Bush is in Europe in the wake of historic victories for democracy in Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine and the Palestinian territories. He hopes for Europe’s support for a global foreign policy, the hallmark of which will be “governments that answer to their citizens.”
Against this backdrop, there is a dangerous development taking shape in the EU’s security policy toward China, one that runs counter to the advance of liberty and threatens U.S. security interests, as well as those of Japan and Taiwan. The major European countries have resumed arms sales to China at an alarming pace and plan to terminate altogether the arms embargo imposed by the EU following the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. This is part of a “strategic partnership” that the EU proclaimed at its summit meeting with China last December.
Leading European figures argue that the embargo is no longer warranted on human-rights grounds. The many ordinary Chinese citizens who remain in prison 15 years later for activities related to Tiananmen might feel differently, if only they could be consulted. While the Chinese people today have more economic choices, the Communist Party remains firmly in power and permits few choices about what can be said publicly in exercise of personal liberty. The new EU policy will provide the Chinese leadership with a significant propaganda coup and strike a blow to the pro-democracy movement in China.
Even more disturbing, EU security policy toward China is on a collision course with America’s extensive security interests in Asia. The U.S. security posture in Asia has been the decisive factor in ensuring regional stability and prosperity since the end of World War II. Today, however, U.S. military planners and commanders are confronting a substantial Chinese military buildup, which includes deployment of approximately 500 short-range ballistic missiles across the Taiwan Strait and intercontinental missiles that can reach U.S. shores. European arms technology will only enhance the complexity, reliability and lethality of China’s growing arsenal. They will also increase the likelihood that Beijing will acquire growing confidence in resolving the status of Taiwan and countering America’s security posture in Asia elsewhere with the threat or use of force.
The major European countries, with few security commitments of their own in Asia, downplay the significance of their new policy by offering blandishments to assuage U.S. concerns. They argue that since EU countries have been evading their own arms embargo with increasing effect, U.S. interests will actually benefit if the embargo is replaced by an improved European code of conduct for arms sales. This code, it is averred, will be “robust” and could include more information-sharing with the U.S. about what arms Europe is transferring to China. It is also said to guarantee that future arms transfers will not increase in quantity or quality. But this assurance is belied by the recent doubling in a one-year period of European arms sales to China to the tune of half a billion dollars. Further, since implementation of the code of conduct is left to member-states to interpret, the same thought process that is being applied to the embargo would flourish under a nonbinding code of conduct.
In reality, these half-measures have all of the vitality of mortuary cosmetics and an equivalent purpose. Under the planned EU policy, weapons technology and know-how will flow to China at increasing levels and with increasing speed, much of it unlicensed or subject to “open” licenses which go mainly unreported.
The House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly last month to reaffirming the U.S. arms embargo on China and express strong objections to continued European arms sales to China. Our resolution urged the president to explain the serious consequences of the EU’s planned action during this week’s trip.
This is a moment when the voices of thoughtful Europeans need to be heard above those who are easily seduced by lucrative Chinese contracts. The choice for Europe could not be clearer: it is between policies that promote the development of democracy in China or those that support China’s military buildup and threaten U.S. security interests. This choice calls to mind the words of William Gladstone: “Nothing that is morally wrong can be politically right.”
Rep. Hyde chairs the International Relations Committee of the House of Representatives.
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