Richard North, 08/12/2004  

Unwise to the point of reckless, the EU seems determined to rub the US the wrong way and give into the Chinese, lifting the arms embargo.

So says The Times this morning, reporting a "new transatlantic rift" that will open today when the EU formally tells China that it is prepared to lift the embargo.

According to The Times, Washington said that the prospect that its Pacific forces could be threatened by advanced European weapons sold to China was unacceptable and that lifting the embargo would lead to restrictions on American co-operation with Europe on defence issues.

"We can't countenance the notion of advanced European weapons technology finding its way into the People's Army and threatening our forces in the region, or Taiwan," a US government official told The Times. "It is very close to the bone for us. It is not at all in the EU’s interest to lift the arms embargo."

At the EU-China summit in The Hague, Jan Peter Balkenende, the Dutch prime minister, will tell Wen Jiabao, his Chinese counterpart, that Europe has agreed in principle to end the embargo once China improves its human rights record and the EU has agreed a new code of conduct for arms sales.

As we have pointed out many times on this Blog (see for instance, here),the embargo has become one of the most sensitive geo-political issues, with the United States worried that its European allies will be arming a country that it sees as a potential military rival.

And, as we have also reported, China is spending billions of dollars upgrading its military capability and is rapidly becoming an economic superpower. Now The Times notes that Washington is concerned that East Asia remains militarily unstable, with China threatening Taiwan and North Korea threatening South Korea.

The US is worried that Europe will sell China advanced technology, such as over-the-horizon-targeting systems (guided by Galileo GPS signals) that would enable the Chinese military to strike American ships hundreds of miles out in the Pacific.

The Times also notes that Congress already is planning legislation that would ban the Pentagon from trading with any country that makes military sales to China and, as we have observed (here) is already making technology transfers difficult.

Britain, and Blair in particular, is piggy-in-the-middle on all this, with everything to lose and very little to gain, but under considerable pressure to show "solidarity" with France and Germany. Blair thus has agreed in principle to lift the embargo, but he must surely hope that some of the other member states block any deal, saving him from having to make another "difficult decision".

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