Reuters News Report


EU urged to stick to China arms embargo

Friday, October 15, 2004

By Jim Wolf

Washington (Reuters) - A lifting of the European Union's ban on arms sales to China could cost its members access to U.S. aerospace and defense technology, including for the high-profile F-35 warplane, U.S. national security officials warned on Friday.

"Theoretically, it could impact anything," including the F-35 being developed with eight other countries, said Robert Maggi, who runs the State Department office that licenses exports of defense goods and services.

As the world's most expensive aircraft project and the Pentagon's biggest international program, the next-generation F-35 has been touted by U.S. strategists as a model for defense cooperation, affordability and technology transfers.

France and Germany have called into question the wisdom of sustaining the arms embargo, imposed in 1989 after Chinese troops crushed the Tiananmen Square democracy movement.

Seeking to boost economic and political ties in Beijing last Saturday, President Jacques Chirac of France denounced the embargo as a "circumstantial measure which is purely and simply hostile to China." It had no justification, he said.

Despite a strong French push, the EU failed to agree this week to end the ban. Analsys said it was only a matter of time, with European leaders driven to build a strategic partnership with China, partly to balance U.S. global power.

The EU is reviewing its policy on the basis of three criteria -- China's human rights record, tension with Taiwan and the as yet incomplete EU code of conduct on arms exports.

Keeping the 25-member EU from bolting the ban-- already less stringent than post-Tiananmen U.S. sanctions -- has become a top priority for the U.S. government, Maggi told reporters at a Pentagon-organized conference on security cooperation.

China covets European radar sets, surveillance systems and communications gear that would boost its ability to take over self-governing Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a rogue province, and intervene elsewhere, U.S. officials said.

The head of the U.S. Defense Department arm that manages government-to-government arms sales, Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Kohler of the Air Force, said a push to streamline transatlantic technology transfers would suffer, including those aimed at close ally Britain.

"I think (an end to the EU embargo) would cause great hesitation within the government and particularly within Congress," he told reporters at the annual conference of his Defense Security Cooperation Agency.

The Pentagon's top policymaker for East Asia, Richard Lawless, said in an Oct. 4 speech in Scottsdale, Arizona, that China was "actively pursuing tactics to create chaos" on Taiwan, in addition to targeting it with more than 500 short-range ballistic missiles.

"If you hear a sense of urgency in my words, it is because the situation in the (Taiwan) strait is dire," he added in calling on Taiwan's parliament to adopt a proposed $18.2 billion budget for U.S.-built missile defenses, submarine-hunting aircraft and diesel-electric submarines.

The State Department's Maggi said the F-35, under development by Lockheed Martin Corp, was among the programs where planned technology transfers could be curtailed for fear of leakage to Beijing, viewed by the Pentagon as a potential strategic competitor.

Referring to the EU as basically borderless, he said: "You have to have good confidence in the control of the stuff" before letting any high-tech items leave the United States.

Eight countries have committed a combined total of about $4.5 billion to the aircraft's development in addition to the Pentagon's contribution. They are Britain, Italy, Netherlands, Turkey, Australia, Norway, Denmark, and Canada.