Int'l Herald Tribune

U.S. warns EU against arms trade with China

Friday, October 08, 2004

The Associated Press

Brussels -- The United States could restrict transfers of sensitive defense technology to European Union countries if EU members support a French effort to end the bloc's 15-year arms embargo on China, a senior State Department official said Thursday.

Washington argues that lifting the European embargo could undermine stability in East Asia and hurt efforts to improve human rights in China.

"It will be a significant obstacle to U.S. defense cooperation with European Union member states," warned Gregory Suchan, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs.

President Jacques Chirac of France was preparing to visit China on Friday, and has again urged his EU partners to drop the ban, which was imposed after the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

"France favors lifting the embargo," Chirac said Thursday in an interview with China's official Xinhua News Agency.

"We are trying to obtain from the European Union the lifting as soon as possible of an embargo that dates to another time and that no longer corresponds to the reality of things," Chirac said.

Chirac and other European leaders will meet Prime Minister Wen Jiabao of China at a weekend EU-Asia summit meeting in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi.

France is expected to try to have the arms ban lifted when foreign ministers from the 25 EU nations hold their regular monthly meeting Monday in Luxembourg.

EU officials said U.S. lobbying had made it unlikely that there would be the unanimous support that is needed for lifting the ban unlikely. "I don't think we have any chance," one EU official said. Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands and others have backed the U.S. position.

The United States fears that sales of high-tech European military equipment, such as radars and communications equipment, could lead to China's increasing intimidation of Taiwan, upset the military balance in the Pacific and even threaten U.S. troops in the region.

"U.S. forces could find themselves targeted by weapons that were built in NATO countries," said Colonel Michael Ryan, defense adviser at the U.S. mission to the EU.

Ryan said EU arms sales to China could force the United States to move troops from Europe to strengthen forces in Asia. Suchan added that the U.S. Congress would almost certainly halt moves to free up the flow of defense technology across the Atlantic and would instead tighten restrictions.

EU nations also face pressure from human rights groups and the European Parliament against lifting the arms ban.

Opponents of the ban say the EU would continue to monitor arms sales to China and restrict exports of goods that could be used for internal repression or international aggression, even after the lifting of the ban.

They argue that the embargo hinders good relations with China, by keeping it on an EU arms black list with Myanmar, Zimbabwe and Sudan. The EU is expected Monday to lift its weapons embargo against Libya.