Reuters News Report


Condoleezza Rice: EU may send wrong signal on China arms

By Carol Giacomo, Diplomatic Correspondent
Tuesday, February 01, 2005

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice suggested on Tuesday that Europe could send the wrong signal on human rights in China if it ended an arms embargo imposed after the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

With China on the rise economically, politically and militarily, the European Union has been in intense discussions in recent months about lifting the embargo.

Rice said that considering the embargo was imposed "because of human rights concerns out of Tiananmen, one has to be very careful not to send the wrong signal about human rights."

She was speaking in an interview with Reuters and Agence France-Presse ahead of trip to Europe this week.

Rice said she did not believe it was a foregone conclusion that the embargo would end, although many U.S. officials say privately they expect this to happen, perhaps in a few months.

"I think we're not resigned to anything. At this point we need to continue to discuss it and see what we can come up with" in terms of a resolution of the issue, Rice said.

The issue is among the more serious irritants continuing to roil U.S.-European relations as the two sides seek to recover from disputes over Iraq (news - web sites), trade and Iran.

U.S. officials have warned that without the embargo, the Europeans would be free to sell Beijing advanced technology that could some day be used against U.S. forces if America has to help defend Taiwan in a war with China.

Earlier at a program hosted by the American Enterprise Institute, Asia expert Richard Fischer accused the Europeans of "strategic backstabbing" in pushing to lift the embargo.

Although senior Bush administration officials have repeatedly briefed Europeans on U.S. concerns, Rice said: "We need to continue to discuss it ... and to understand European motivations for wanting to go down this road."

U.S. retaliation?

The European Union's main decision-making body decided against lifting the embargo at a meeting in December but indicated it wanted to make a final decision within the next several months.

Some members of the U.S. Congress have suggested they will push for retaliation if the embargo is lifted.

Rice refused to discuss such initiatives. But some U.S. Congress sources have said removal of the embargo could affect congressional support for trans-Atlantic cooperation on major weapons systems, like the Joint Strike Fighter.

But U.S. officials said they are even more worried that lifting the EU embargo could propel Russia -- China's main weapons supplier -- to widen its sales.

This means not just transferring weapons systems but the underlying technology that could lead to joint development between China and Russia and China and European firms, a senior Pentagon official told Reuters.

Some EU countries say U.S. fears are exaggerated and that European weapons sales will be constrained by a 1998 code of conduct on arms exports that sets out criteria -- such as a potential buyer's human rights record -- that should be weighed before any deal goes through.

Speaking at the AEI program, Ellen Bork of the Project for the New American Century, a leading neoconservative group, called the code "toothless."

But Professor David Shambaugh, a China expert from George Washington University, said if the embargo were lifted, most Europeans would engage in technology transfers rather than lethal arms sales to China.

"The EU is quite conscious of the need to replace the embargo with an even stronger institutional mechanism," he said, adding: "The EU is not about to act irresponsibly here." (Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed and Saul Hudson)