Financial Times

EU arms embargo affair mishandled

By Richard G Whitman
Published: February 07 2005

Sir, Quentin Peel ("Where trade comes before politics", February 3) is correct in highlighting that the soon-to-be-lifted European Union arms embargo on China is an example of the poverty of the geo-strategic thinking of the EU and European governments. It illustrates clearly that the EU and its member states are only thinking along one strategic plane - the commercial - in their relationship with China.

The decision to lift the embargo is not inherently wrong but the way it has been handled has been deeply flawed. There has not been a seriously negotiated win-win resolution to an issue that is of high symbolic importance to the Chinese government. The EU's commercial pragmatists have prevailed at the additional costs of picking an unnecessary argument with the US and acting in an unsatisfactory manner in ignoring the concerns of Japan.

The EU should, and could, link the progressive easing of the arms embargo to progress in confidence-building and arms control measures between China and its neighbours. As the EU itself acknowledged in its first security strategy published 13 months ago, "our own experience in Europe demonstrates that security can be increased through confidence building and arms control regimes".

Richard G. Whitman, Head, European Programme, Chatham House, London SW1Y 4LE