A special European Union (EU) delegation visiting Washington is finding resistance among officials, members of Congress and others to its effort to promote the EU's plan to lift its arms embargo against China. The delegation traveled to Washington to try to ease concerns about the plan, and to offer to start a strategic dialogue with the United States on overall China policy.
According to a prominent professor who attended a private dinner given Monday evening by the EU's ambassador in Washington, all the Americans in attendance expressed opposition to the plan to lift the China arms embargo. The director of the China Studies program at Johns Hopkins University, David Lampton, says he has heard that the delegation got the same message during a series of meetings with prominent members of Congress.
"Pretty much across the board, Americans, whether in the executive branch or the civil society or the legislative branch, don't think this is the time to be lifting that embargo,” he said. “I actually heard no dissent from that basic proposition. So I think they're getting a uniform message."
U.S. concerns about the European plan increased last week, when China's legislature passed a law authorizing the use of force against Taiwan if the island declares independence or if all efforts at peaceful reunification fail.
During a visit to Washington last week, France's defense minister, Michele Alliot-Marie, said she hoped the delegation would be able to ease U.S. concerns about the plan to lift the embargo.
That is what President Bush said was necessary during his visit to Europe last month.
"They need to make sure that if they do so, that they sell it to the United States Congress,” said Mr. Bush. “The Congress will be making the decision as to how to react to what will be perceived by some, perhaps, as a technology transfer to China."
Some members of Congress have threatened trade retaliation against the EU if it moves ahead on its own.
European officials say lifting the embargo is largely symbolic because it is not very effective, and they say they will replace it with a code of conduct that will provide stronger controls on what type of military equipment can be sold to China.
But Professor Lampton says the American objections go beyond the specific issue of what the West should sell to China, and what it should not sell.
"Many Americans would think that the proper order to be doing things here would be to first of all have a dialogue between the United States and our European allies, and figure out what it is we're actually most concerned about not being transferred to the Chinese, and then develop a mechanism to assure that those interests are protected. And then, maybe the Americans could be more relaxed about this," Professor Lampton explained.
The Europeans say that is what they are now trying to do. A spokeswoman for the EU mission in Washington says the delegation has received a positive response to the idea of initiating a strategic dialogue on China policy. The European official says Europe and the United States need to have a strategic relationship with China, and that the embargo makes that difficult.
The embargo was imposed to protest China's crackdown on the student-led democracy movement on Tiananmen Square in 1989. European officials say it is time to recognize what they see as progress on human rights in China, and to remove China from the list of countries with arms embargoes against them, countries such as Zimbabwe, Sudan and Burma.
The European Union had hoped to announce the lifting of the embargo during the first half of this year, but officials now say that could be delayed to provide time for more U.S.-EU consultation on the issue.