Monday, March 21, 2005

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s warning to Europe against exporting arms to China was heard and welcomed in much of Asia. Miss Rice pointed out in Beijing the potential consequences of Europe dropping its arms embargo as she wrapped up her tour of six Asian nations.

The arms embargo has been in place since the 1989 Tiananmen massacre. The Bush administration’s opposition to Europe’s planned sale of sophisticated weaponry to China is a position that unifies America with much of the rest of the world. Many of the nations that have established close trade ties with China continue to be wary of Beijing’s increasing militarization. In this regard, Europe’s plan to scrap its arms embargo on China by June is highly unilateral — a charge European Union officials have levied against Washington on many occasions. Miss Rice should be commended for reiterating her outspoken criticism of Europe’s potential scrapping of the embargo, but part of her diplomatic success depends on her ability to convince other U.S. allies to publicly echo that stance.

“From the U.S. point of view [rescinding the arms embargo] would not be the right signal,” Miss Rice said. “It might serve to alter the balance in a place the United States in particular has security interests.”

Miss Rice also said that now would be a particularly inopportune time to drop the embargo, given the rubber-stamping by Beijing’s so-called legislature of an anti-secession law, which gave Beijing the right to attack Taiwan should the island attempt to formally separate from China. “As for the anti-secession legislation, I said to my Chinese hosts that we would hope that this would be something that, after having made dialogue across the Straits more difficult, that they would take steps to reduce tensions now with Taiwan,” said Miss Rice.

While EU officials acknowledged that the anti-secession law has made EU plans more controversial, it looks probable that Europe will consider public-relations, but not strategic, issues in deciding whether or not to sells weapons to China. After waiting for the furor over the anti-secession law to die down, EU officials could well open arms trade with China — a move that concerns countries in East and Southeast Asia, and beyond. Japan has closed ranks with the United States on the issue, vocally signaling its potential repercussions. India, which has unresolved border disputes with China, has watched Beijing’s rising military ambitions with concern, but has yet to speak out against relaxing the EU embargo.

Miss Rice has been firm and clear in publicly urging the European Union to maintain its arms embargo on China. Europe’s plan to sell Beijing sophisticated weapons is broadly opposed around the world, and runs counter to the European Union’s non-economic and longer-term strategic interests. Miss Rice should step up her efforts to prod other nations, including India, to voice their mutual concerns about a China bolstered with European weaponry.

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