Helping Europe arm China?
|By William R. Hawkins
February 03, 2005
Last Saturday, thousands of Chinese gathered to honor Zhao Ziyang, the Communist Party leader ousted in 1989 for opposing the bloody military assault on pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square. Zhao died Jan. 17 after 15 years under house arrest.
The still autocratic Chinese regime took extraordinary measures to prevent his death stirring memories of the student massacre and inciting new protests. It ordered a virtual news blackout, detained dissidents and seized control of the funeral from his family.
President Hu Jintao had already been applying new pressure against "public intellectuals" and what has been denounced as "the new liberalism." Veteran China-watcher Willy Lam has recently said, "Hu and his colleagues are masterminding an old-style ideological campaign to promote Marxist rectitude and 'ideological purity' among cadres and ordinary party members." Zhao championed market reforms and thus showed how opening to capitalism is not the same as abandoning tyranny.
The day after Zhao's death, Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said of Tiananmen, "The past 15 years have shown China's decision was correct." Mr. Kong cited the rapid growth of the Chinese economy, fueled by transnational corporations that value the communist dictatorship's stability over the turbulence of popular politics.
The European Union is about to furnish more proof how easy it is to get away with mass murder. Only four days after Zhao's death, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw went to Beijing to pledge London's support for lifting the EU arms embargo on China. Beijing has long denounced the ban on weapons sales as a "Cold War relic" but the ban was actually imposed in retaliation for the Tiananmen massacre.
While France and Germany see arming China as a way to create a "counterweight" to American power, Britain, Italy and other European states are led down this dangerous path by the desire to make money. The EU runs a trade deficit with China that topped $73 billion in the first 10 months of last year. European firms -- led by Germany, are moving production to China and then exporting the output back to the EU. Europeans are desperate to increase exports to China to reduce the deficit, and Beijing wants weapons and military technology.
At the China-European Union Summit in The Hague, the Netherlands, last Dec. 9, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao lobbied for lifting the arms embargo. He was rewarded in a very ironic way. The summit issued a Joint Declaration on Nonproliferation and Arms Control which was "to maintain international and regional peace, security and stability" and "to strengthen controls over exports of conventional weapons." Yet Point 7 of this document said, "The EU side confirmed its political will to continue to work towards lifting the embargo."
The Chinese Foreign Ministry claims supplying Beijing with modern arms and military technology "would not harm the interests of any other third party." Such words provide little comfort to Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Philippines or the United States, whose interests are challenged by China's growing ambitions.
European firms have already helped China build new capabilities despite the embargo. British jet engines and satellite technology, and maritime diesel engines from France and Germany have already been adapted for military use. European firms have been able to get around the embargo by claiming sales are for civilian use. However, there is no separation in China between military and civilian sectors, as the government owns all strategic industries.
Italian Deputy Minister of Defense Salvator Cicu attended the Zhuhai international air show last November for the signing of a co-production agreement between the Anglo-Italian firm AgustaWestland and Aviation Industries of China II for a new helicopter design. The Chinese helicopter project is based on the Agusta A-109, which is in use by the U.S. Coast Guard. The A-109 is also a candidate for a new U.S. Army helicopter program. So if the EU lifts its arms embargo on Beijing, it will pose an obvious threat of improved Chinese military capabilities against the United States in Asia. A leading authority on the Chinese military, Richard Fisher, has recently written "by providing almost continuous technology support during the 1990s, European companies have helped China to create a modern attack and transport helicopter sector."
The Pentagon has just selected AgustaWestland to build the new helicopter fleet that will service the White House, picking it over the American Sikorsky firm, which is the mainstay of the U.S. military helicopter industrial base. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, California Republican, responded to the Defense Department choice by saying, "It is difficult to understand why we would use U.S. tax dollars to fund the further development of foreign helicopter technology." It is even harder to understand this decision when it is not just the European industry that is being helped, but through it, Chinese industry as well.
The Bush administration has been trying to dissuade the EU from lifting the arms embargo. But talk is not enough. Washington needs to take the profit out of EU-China cooperation. Any EU firm that contributes to China's military capability should be denied the right to bid on U.S. military contracts or have access to American technology.
William R. Hawkins is senior fellow for national security studies at the U.S. Business and Industry Council.