The European Union is coming under increasing pressure from the United States not to lift an arms embargo on China, amidst concerns that Beijing will acquire high-tech weaponry and alter the military power balance in Asia. The European Parliament is expected to pass a resolution next week calling for the ban to be kept in place.
Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick issued strong warnings this week about the dangers of lifting the embargo, during meetings in Brussels, headquarters of the 25-nation European Union. He later told reporters that if European equipment ever helped to kill Americans in a conflict, this would not be good for the trans-Atlantic relationship.
He also warned that some members of the U.S. Congress are already demanding limitations on foreign defense procurement and joint defense projects. He stressed that Washington does not want China to obtain high-tech weaponry.
"What the president, and the secretary, and I, and members of our Congress have been trying to do is explain our perspective and explain some of the risks to this in terms of security in the Pacific, the human rights issues, how it would affect trans-Atlantic defense cooperation," stated Mr. Zoellick. "Recognizing that this will be a decision that Europeans will have to make."
Washington is concerned that ending the embargo could prompt an arms race in Asia and threaten Taiwan. Just last month China's parliament passed a new law allowing the use of force to head off any bid for independence by Taiwan, which Beijing considers a breakaway province.
Controversy over the arms embargo is building in Europe and the matter comes before the European Parliament next week. Elmar Brok, chairman of the foreign affairs committee, says the Parliament will pass a resolution asking that the embargo be kept in place.
"I think we have to be very strict on this question because we believe that the human rights question, the anti-secession law towards Taiwan, and the trans-Atlantic relationship are such important matters that we should not make a wrong decision," he said.
British officials have indicated reluctance to quickly lift the ban because of Chinas slow progress on human rights and the new law on Taiwan. Some European governments also do not want to jeopardize the recent warming in relations with Washington.
France and Germany, the continent's two largest powers, are the driving forces behind the push to lift the arms ban. They want to increase business and trade with Beijing, and see the move as a goodwill gesture that will help open China's expanding market to sales of expensive civilian goods like airliners. Paris and Berlin say tight controls will remain on the sale of high-tech weapons.
Meanwhile, Chinese foreign minister Li Zhaoxing, on a European tour last month, said lifting the arms embargo is not a threat to anyone. "We believe the lifting of the embargo are [is] in the interests of peoples, countries of the two sides and is not directed against the interests of any third party," he said. "Not to mention harming the interests of other parties."
The European Union imposed the embargo in 1989 after China's bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen square. Beijing says it is unfair and outdated.
Concerning the new anti-secession law, China insists it wants to work out a peaceful solution to the Taiwan issue.