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European Union Embargo To China

The European Union's 15-year embargo on arms sales to China apparently will remain in effect for the time being in the wake of strong U.S. lobbying against lifting the ban, as well as the passage last week of a Chinese law authorizing the use of force against Taiwan if it seeks formal independence. OPT the arms embargo was imposed on China after the 1989 military crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing. END OPT Robert Ahdieh, associate professor of law at Emory University School of Law, agrees the E-U should not lift the ban at this time:

"I believe that they did do the right thing. The relations of China with Taiwan are incredibly sensitive. By our standard of foreign relations the interaction of China and Taiwan represents an incredibly complex and nuance relationship," he says. "Small changes in terminology and planning, public address by the leaders oftentimes are enough to trigger this war of words and occasionally some shooting at least threat of shooting as well. In that context a decision by the European Union to lift its arms embargo immediately after China’s adoption of its anti- session law that essentially authorizes the leadership to take military action in the face of certain moves towards independence by Taiwan would arguably send a message to China that Europe is backing down from a strong position on the autonomy of Taiwan: and might send a message to Taiwan that Europe is not prepared to stand up to defend Taiwan’s autonomy from China."

William Ward, Professor of Business Administration at Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania, says the weapons embargo may have been a good idea at the time, but there have been problems.

"I think the embargo in place was a good idea, but it was sort of like Swiss cheese, it had a lot of holes. You can clearly see if you review Chinese weapon procurement, military procurement it did have a lot of holes in it," he says. "Of course the principal arms supplier for China has been Russia all along. The idea behind this embargo is that the Chinese were able to get access to certain high tech equipment their primary arms supplier the Soviet Union can’t supply that Europeans and Americans may have, or the Europeans may get from American technology or likewise etc."

The United States opposes lifting the ban. It fears being drawn into a conflict if a better-armed China were to take military action against Taiwan. We asked Emory University's Professor Ahdieh if China's passage of the anti-secession law against Taiwan had a strong impact on European feelings toward the ban:

"I think the Europeans where in an awkward position. The desire to lift the arms embargo was in significant part driven by commercial interest although the European Union offered some indications to the effect that dramatic increase in sales to China would not in sue. There is every reason to believe that commercial interests where pushing behind the desire to lift the arms embargo," he says. "So you are faced by a difficult decision driven by a commercial interest. They potentially might create a situation where the risk of hostility between Taiwan and China would have been quite likely to lead to conflict between U.S. military forces and Chinese military forces would essentially be encouraged or facilitated by the European Union, he adds. "I think the anti-secession law; passage of the anti-session law in essence brought that message home to the European Union. It drove home the message that by lifting the arms embargo that there was this real prospect that European weaponry would be used against American military forces."

Professor Ward of Susquehanna University says the anti-secession law may have caused the embargo on arms sales to China to fall apart, but the real issues are more economic.

"I think the anti-session law which is China saying we can retake Taiwan by force or by any means possible had an effect (but I think it was a sort of triggering device). They new that was a high point of sensitivity for the US. But the real issues are economic. If you look at the Chinese penetration into Africa, the Europeans are being closed out of Africa. Particularly if you are looking at countries like Ethiopia etc. Because of the Chinese penetration of all kinds; cultural, economic, political, diplomatic, military. Europeans don’t like the Chinese that close to their backyards so to speak," he says. "It’s a tremendous geo-political and sort of balance of power kind of issue. The United States has strong interest in Asia historically, economically, diplomatically, militarily etc. Any move by the Chinese such as this, as the Japanese would have set the balance of power in the region (the Japanese, the South Koreans, and even the Russians are concern to a degree) and of course the Chinese are willing to ignore U.S. South Korean sentiments in this regard. . I think that happens to be a convenient focus or trigger but I think the underlining causes are much deeper than that."

Note: Point of View is a weekly VOA radio segement that features leaders and experts debating different sides of an issue or topic. Click on the audio link above to listen to the full program.