U.S. lawmakers have stepped up criticism of the European Union for considering lifting the 16-year embargo on arms shipments to China. A joint hearing Thursday of two House of Representatives committees focused on the security implications of such a decision for the United States, while U.S. officials reiterated Washington's concerns.
Lawmakers likened any lifting of the embargo to appeasement of China, saying it would undermine stability in East Asia and place the lives of U.S. troops there at greater risk.
Concern has been rising in Congress about China's military buildup and the implications, particularly for Taiwan.
Republican Congressman Henry Hyde, chairman of the House International Relations Committee, believes Europe has shown general indifference to U.S. concerns. "European arms sales to China now raise fundamental questions about whether defense-industrial cooperation with Europe is becoming a national security liability for us," he said.
California Democrat Tom Lantos rejects what he calls outrageous European assurances that ending the embargo would be merely symbolic, saying E.U. governments are driven by commercial interests, and are insensitive to security and other repercussions. "For this generation of European leaders to turn their backs on American national security interests, and to consider opening the floodgates of weapons sales to the People's Republic of China shows they have truly lost their moral compass and all historic memory," he said.
Members of Congress have been cautiously encouraged as President Bush and other administration officials have attempted to mend ties with Europe damaged by the war in Iraq.
But many view the possible end of the E.U. embargo not only as an insult, but a direct threat to the security of the United States and to thousands of U.S. troops positioned in Asia.
Republican Duncan Hunter is chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. "Lifting this arms embargo should cause us to reconsider our entire security relationship with Europe. A reliable alliance cannot be sustained when some of the members are engaged in arming potential adversaries," he said.
Visiting Europe earlier this month, Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick said lifting the embargo could affect what he called the transatlantic defense trade with Europe.
Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns cites China's military buildup, tensions with Taiwan, and other regional concerns in stressing Washington's strong opposition. "We do not believe cross-strait relations would improve if China gains access to advanced weaponry. We are also concerned about protecting key U.S. military technologies that we share with the European allies should the E.U. lift the embargo. Likewise, we are concerned about China's record of proliferating weapons to Iran, Sudan, Burma and other states of concern," he said.
Peter Rodman, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, says ending the embargo could raise complications in one area of U.S.-European cooperation, development of the Joint Strike Fighter. "The Joint Strike Fighter is a very important project and there are a lot of positive values, (on) inter-operability there is a strong argument for that program, but this issue will complicate it without a doubt."
Lawmakers are signaling even more loudly that legislation will be forthcoming in Congress threatening to restrict industrial and military technology sharing with E.U. countries if the embargo is lifted.
Amid reports France and Germany have pressed Beijing to make human-rights concessions in exchange for lifting the embargo, lawmakers are also rejecting what they call any cosmetic changes by Beijing in this regard in connection with the embargo, a position supported by Mr. Burns on Thursday.
The hearing coincided with a European parliament vote overwhelmingly opposing an end to the arms embargo, and urging the E.U. to develop a code of conduct on arms shipments members would follow before any decision is made.
But Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, speaking to Germany's parliament, reiterated his support for the E.U. agreement last December to work toward ending the embargo by June of this year.