Arms embargo on China
The New York Times
Tuesday, March 29, 2005
New York It is hard to imagine what China's leaders figured they had to gain by pushing through a law authorizing an attack on Taiwan if it moves toward formal independence. Beijing has been threatening such an attack for years, and the Communist Party's all-powerful leaders hardly need to get their toothless legislature's permission if they ever decide to plunge ahead with such lunacy.
But it is easy enough to see what damage this action has already done to China's international reputation and objectives. By reminding the world that Beijing seriously thinks about starting a shooting war across the Taiwan Strait that could conceivably draw in the United States, China has persuaded Europe to slow down its ill-advised drive to lift the arms embargo it imposed after the violent suppression of the Tiananmen Square democracy movement.
President George W. Bush had been urging just such a reconsideration on European leaders without much result. It took China's legislative authorization of war to prove that Bush was absolutely right. The embargo was initially ordered to demonstrate that what happened on Tiananmen Square was totally unacceptable. To this day, China has not shown the slightest regret for those bloody events, nor has it given any guarantees that they will not happen again.
But the most compelling reason for keeping the embargo involves Taiwan. The island's official status is best deferred to another day, when passions on both sides of the Strait are cooler than they are right now. Independence-minded political leaders in Taipei need to restrain their rhetoric and gestures, while mainland leaders needed to stop brandishing threats.
Until that happens, selling China weapons that might be used to shoot down U.S. aircraft assigned to defend Taiwan is a terrible idea, and one that could lead Congress to restrict the sharing of American military technologies with European arms exporters.