Thursday, February 10, 2005

The Bush administration is pressing the European Union to maintain the arms embargo imposed on China after the 1989 military crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in Brussels yesterday that the United States “has very specific concerns about lifting the embargo” based on Chinese human rights abuses and about upsetting the military balance across the Taiwan Strait.

U.S. officials, who are in “open discussion” with European allies on the issue, said China will obtain sophisticated weapons and technology if the 16-year-old ban on arms sales is lifted. A senior Pentagon official said such a move would boost the Chinese defense industry.

France and Germany have been pressing the European Union to lift the embargo, based on appeals from Beijing. The British government until recently has sided with the United States in keeping the ban. But U.S. officials said Britain is expected to change and favor lifting the ban after a Briton takes over as head of the European Union later this year.

China has jailed about 2,000 people who were involved in the pro-democracy protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, Miss Rice said in answering a reporter’s question at NATO headquarters.

The secretary said, “There’s still those 2,000 people who are jailed in China.”

Chinese military forces were ordered to clear the square, killing hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of unarmed pro-democracy protesters in the attacks on June 4, 1989. China’s communist government never has acknowledged the bloody military crackdown.

The Pentagon official said both the Pentagon and other U.S. government agencies are working “very aggressively” to see that the European Union keeps the embargo in place.

“Unresolved issues on human rights that have caused the Europeans to have this arms embargo in place since Tiananmen have not resolved themselves,” the senior official said. “And, therefore, it is not appropriate for the Europeans to lift the embargo.”

China is engaged in a major military buildup that includes purchases and development of advanced weapons that the Pentagon fears could be used against U.S. forces if a conflict erupted between China and Taiwan.

Recent Chinese arms developments include purchases of advanced Russian guided-missile destroyers, submarines, Su-27 warplanes and long-range conventional missiles.

The Pentagon also is worried that lifting the EU embargo would encourage other arms suppliers to China, including Russia and Israel, to step up sales of advanced weaponry and technology, the senior official said.

John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said in Tokyo on Tuesday that the European Union should keep the arms embargo in place.

“We believe that lifting the EU arms embargo at a time when China’s human rights record remains poor would send the wrong message,” Mr. Bolton said.

Security worries in East Asia regarding China are another reason the European Union should keep its ban, Mr. Bolton said.

“We are concerned that any measures that allow China to significantly improve its coercive capabilities could make fostering a peaceful resolution of [the Taiwan] issue less likely,” he said.

Both the United States and Japan say that allowing advanced arms sales to China “will contribute to regional instability,” Mr. Bolton said.

“Moreover … no adequate mechanism currently exists to prevent China from transferring technology and lethal weaponry to other, less stable regions of the world, including rogue states, or to use it for the purposes of internal repression.”

Mr. Bolton noted that an EU proposal to replace the embargo with a “code of conduct” allowing limited arms sales will not work.

The code is not legally binding and is open to varying interpretations by member states, he said.

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