- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 8, 2004

We’d like to think Old Europe’s leaders still value NATO, the trans-Atlantic alliance, and improving post-Iraq war relations with the United States. But renewed calls this week by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac to lift the arms embargo against China aren’t helping matters.

The United Kingdom, Denmark, the Netherlands and others are still upholding the embargo, and it seems that even many Germans want it to remain, since Mr. Schroeder is opposing his own Bundestag. Clearly, much of European opinion still dislikes the idea of arms for China. It’s not hard to fathom why. China simply hasn’t improved its human-rights record enough — nor has it improved its hostile posture on Taiwan in the slightest. No reasonable person can think the arms wouldn’t be used at best to intimidate the United States and its allies or at worst to kill U.S. soldiers and those of U.S. allies if a war over Taiwan were to occur. The acrimony over the Iraq war highlighted rifts and differences in opinion across the Atlantic, but that’s all they were: differences. Most Europeans are nowhere near wanting to give China greatly increased war-fighting abilities.

French and German leaders know this, of course. But pecuniary interests are driving them to ignore it. This week, Airbus announced it reached a $1.3 billion deal with the Chinese for civilian airliners. Contracts for rail locomotives, industrial equipment and other materials run into the billions, too. With the Chinese military upgrading at a rapid pace these days, billions more await if and when the embargo ends. We’ve reached a point, then, where Old Europe’s leaders spout nostrums about the post-Cold War era and then follow their wallets without any regard for the principles they claim to uphold.

In the meantime, subjects of Communist Chinese rule still suffer, Hong Kong freedoms shrink, Taiwanese democracy is still imperiled and the possibility of conflict over Taiwan still looms. The Europeans know an arms embargo is a necessary part of any security strategy for East Asia. They also know it reminds the world that China’s human-rights record is still abysmal. Too bad Messrs. Schroeder and Chirac can’t bring themselves to act upon the knowledge.

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