Mar 23, 2005

Taiwan: Security Keeps Chinese Arms Embargo in Place

Britain wants to delay any lifting of a Chinese arms embargo until it receives assurances that the European Union's policy for selling weapons overseas is sufficiently robust

Britain wants to delay any lifting of a Chinese arms embargo until it receives assurances that the European Union's policy for selling weapons overseas is sufficiently robust, a Foreign Office official said today.

The position makes it highly unlikely the ban on selling EU arms to China, in place since the violent crackdown against pro-democracy protestors 15 years ago, will be lifted before next year despite indications in December to the contrary.

The change of heart comes after huge pressure from US administration and Congress to keep the ban on sophisticated weapon sales, and the decision last week in China to pass a law authorising the use of military force against Taiwan.
"If we lift the arms embargo, what do we have in place [to monitor sales]?" a Foreign Office official said. "We have the code of conduct but is it sufficient? If we need to strengthen it, how do we strengthen it?"

A review of the ban has been in place since late 2003. France, which introduced the review, thought it had achieved a breakthrough last December when the EU announced it wanted to end the embargo and, though no date was set in stone, it was implied a decision would be taken during Luxembourg 's presidency of the EU, which runs until the end of June.

"They thought in January but it would be a quick decision but that is no longer the case," an EU source said. "I have given up trying to guess dates."

The embargo on China, which has the world's largest army, was imposed after the violent crackdown on protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Russia is the biggest supplier of arms to China though the EU and US both supply some vehicles and other relatively low-grade weaponry.

Any lifting of the ban is dependent on reaching agreement on how to monitor arms sales, consensus on human rights issues, and placating countries, chiefly the US and Japan, that the regional strategic balance would not be upset.

The code of conduct was set up in 1998 and has become the main tool used by EU countries when deciding to which regimes arms can be sold.

Last week's decision in China to pass a law authorising military force against Taiwan to prevent the island gaining formal independence worried Pacific countries about the communist state's motives for buying sophisticated weaponry.

Chinese officials today reacted angrily to the reports of the delay.

"Linking these two issues is unreasonable," said a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Liu Jianchao. "The passage of the anti-secession law is an effort to ease tensions across the Taiwan Straits ... the key to ease tensions is to check Taiwan's secessionary forces and to stop all secessionist activities."

"The arms embargo against China is political discrimination, which is not in line with today's reality," he added. "The EU should do something to contribute to the growth of bilateral relations."

China says it is unlikely to buy large amounts of European arms if the embargo is lifted, but analysts say Beijing is looking to Europe for high-tech equipment that it can't get elsewhere.

In 2003, EU members approved licences to sell 400m euro (£280m) of arms to China. However, a lifting of the ban could open up a defence market worth up to $15bn (£7.9bn) annually. China, which has been modernising its army since the 1991 Gulf war, is interested in buying up-to-date fighters and other sophisticated weaponry. The US, which has its own arms embargo, likewise sells some weaponry to China and has a Humvee production factory in the country.

The US president, George Bush, and Congress have been pushing to keep the embargo in place. Congress has been particularly keen not to lift the ban.

A European envoy, Annalisa Giannella, was sent by the European council's foreign policy representative, Javier Solana, to Washington last week to make the case that Europe would expand the code of conduct restricting such equipment. But Ms Giannella was said to have persuaded no one, especially in Congress, the New York Times reported today.

It said European officials admit to have been taken aback by the ferocity of Congressional opposition to lifting the embargo, led by such Republican heavyweights as senators Ted Stevens of Alaska and John McCain of Arizona.

After Ms Giannella's visit, Congressional leaders reiterated their opposition to lifting the embargo, in some cases threatening retaliation by blocking purchases of European military equipment for American forces.

Britain, which went along with the EU in December, does not want any lifting of the ban while it holds the presidency of the EU from June to December, the paper reported.

Italy, Sweden and Belgium are all reconsidering their support for the quick ending of the embargo, the Financial Times reported today.

Source: Guardian