No one sensible, reading the news that the EU has decided to draw back from the brink, and delay the lifting of the arms embargo on China can help but feel relieved.
But the whole episode leaves a nasty taste, as highlighted by the leaders in The Telegraph today, which makes the obvious comment: "China row shows how little EU cares for democracy".
Perhaps, says the Telegraph, the EU leaders have finally woken up to the magnitude of what they are proposing:
Unusually, their actions could for once have real and calamitous consequences. In the wider world, it does not much matter whether Cuban dissidents are invited to EU embassy functions, or whether Iraqi recruits are trained by European policemen. But the purchase of lethal arms by Beijing is of more than diplomatic significance.Although the EU has long argued – speciously – that the lifting of the embargo was largely "symbolic", the paper notes that, for the Americans, the question is far from symbolic. They have long-standing defence pacts with Taiwan and Japan, and are incandescent at the idea that their sailors might be the target of weapons made in Europe.
The Chinese want weapons in order to use them. Almost every contiguous state has, at one time or another, felt the force of Chinese aggression: Korea, Russia, Mongolia, Pakistan, India, Tibet, Vietnam, Hong Kong. Taiwan, which is regularly menaced by Chinese naval exercises off its coast, understandably frets that it will be next; Japan, too, is starting to feel uneasy.
And the paper has finally picked up the link to which we have been drawing attention for some time:
The Chinese arms embargo - and the related question of Galileo, a satellite system that the EU and China are jointly seeking to develop as an alternative to America's GPS - is the latest and most serious of the clashes between Washington and Brussels.There are also continuing arguments over Cuba, Iran and Israel. A common theme links these disputes: in each of them, the Telegraph argues, the EU favours stability over democracy. It has refused to back anti-Castro dissidents; it is pursuing a policy of "constructive engagement" with the ayatollahs; and it seems positively to resent Israel's status as the only parliamentary democracy in the region. The paper concludes:
Americans sometimes accuse the EU of hypocrisy when it cuddles up to Third World tyrants, but they are missing the point: European leaders have never been wild about democracy (or "populism" as they call it). That is why they are pushing ahead with a profoundly anti-democratic constitution regardless of the national referendum results. It is perhaps not surprising that they should feel relatively comfortable with the tyrants in Beijing.These are words we could have used. In fact, I rather think we have.
According to the Chinese on-line press agency Xinhuanet, citing the Saturday issue of Luxemburger Wort, a German-language newspaper with the biggest circulation in Luxembourg, foreign minister Jean Asselborn is denying that Juncker has said that the EU embargo is not to be lifted.
Asselborn said he called the prime minister, who is in the United States, after he learned of the reports this morning. He was able to confirm that the position remains the same as it was previously, that "the Luxembourg Presidency will manage to find a solution."
Celebrations, therefore, might be a little premature.