By Frederick Studemann and Stephen Fidler in London and George Parker in Brussels
Financil Times, January 12, 2005
The British government on Wednesday said it believes the European Union will lift its arms embargo on China in the next few months, despite last ditch efforts by the US to prevent such a move. Jack Straw, UK foreign secretary, told a parliamentary committee it was "more likely than not" that the lifting of the 15-year-old embargo, the cause of tension between the EU and the US, would be decided during Luxembourg's presidency of the EU which runs to the end of June.
He acknowledged that the US had a "legitimate and understandable" interest in the effectiveness of European arms control practices, but said that a revision of the current EU code of conduct would prevent either a qualitative or quantitative increase in the number of arms exported to China. "If it is lifted we will end up with as effective arms controls in relation to China as we have now," Mr Straw said.
The embargo was introduced after the suppression of the 1989 pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square. The EU subsequently introduced a wider-ranging code of conduct in 1998. The code is being revised to increase its scope and oblige EU members to take account of the final use of equipment or technology as well as to produce annual progress reports. Despite European assurances, a US official said this week the US was worried about the enforcement of a new export policy which would be executed by individual countries, some of which may bend the criteria.
Washington's chief concern is that China could gain access to advanced technology - both of European origin and even of US technology licensed to European manufacturers - for use in areas such as battlefield management and command and control systems. The US military fears a possible confrontation with China in the Taiwan Strait. "Pressure from France and Germany is leading to a common EU position that doesn't take into account the strategic risks we face and the Japanese face. All for the sake of a few hundred million dollars of equipment," the US official said.
European countries also face the possibility that the US Congress could halt technology transfers from the US. "People in Congress are going to say they (Europe) can trade with China or they can trade with us," he said. Mr Straw said many of the objections were based on a "lack of information and understanding" of how export control guidelines worked in EU countries and added that a lot of effort was going into providing reassurance to the US. Last week Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief, said after two days of talks with Condoleezza Rice, the US national security adviser, that he expected the US "will be able to live with" the lifting of the embargo. The Luxembourg EU presidency could wrap up negotiations to lift the embargo in May, when the EU holds a meeting with China at the foreign ministers' level.