U.S. lawmakers are urging the European Union not to make good on a plan to lift its arms embargo on China, saying it would reward Beijing for its poor human rights record.
U.S. lawmakers are incensed that the EU still supports lifting the arms embargo after China's parliament last week passed a law authorizing military force against Taiwan if the island declares independence, or if all efforts at peaceful unification fail.
At a Senate Foreign Relations hearing to discuss the EU proposal, chairman Richard Lugar, an Indiana Republican, was blunt.
"In light of such potentially destabilizing action, this is no time to be taking steps that might either help China achieve decisive military advantage over Taiwan, or send the wrong political signal," said Senator Lugar.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice offered similar comments this week.
Senator Lugar said lifting the arms embargo would send the wrong signal to China in the area of human rights.
"China still holds political and religious prisoners, avoids meaningful dialogue with the Dalai Lama over Tibet, and has no engagement whatever with domestic pro-democracy forces. Lifting the arms curb would be viewed as a reward for this intransigence," he said.
Senator Lugar said the administration should make certain that China does not circumvent the U.S. embargo by buying American technology from Europe. He said the United States should press for agreements with EU states banning the transfer of U.S. technology or weapons to China. He added that if the countries fail to agree, or the quality or quantity of arms going to China from Europe rises markedly, that the United States should reassess its sales to Europe of its most critical military technology.
The top Democrat on the committee, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, called for a strategic dialogue with Europe on the issue:
"We need to reach out, it seems to me, to the EU and articulate our concerns and consult with our allies on a full range of Asia policy issues," said Mr. Biden. "Europe, in turn, has to toughen its code of conduct on all arms sales, and should agree to consult with us on any sales to China if we end up being unable to stop this, which I am beginning to be doubtful about."
The EU says it wants strategic dialogue with the United States. An EU delegation is in Washington this week to seek to begin such a process. Senator Lugar was among the officials with whom they met.
The arms embargo was imposed after China's crackdown on pro-democracy protesters on Tiananmen Square in 1989. European officials say it is time to recognize what they say is progress on human rights. They say the embargo has been very effective, and say they are updating a code of conduct to provide more effective control over weapons exports.
Although the EU had hoped to announce the lifting of the embargo by June, officials say the decision could be delayed to allow for more U.S.-EU consultations.
A source close to the EU delegation in Washington says the group may make a second U.S. visit in the coming months to continue discussions.