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Wednesday, October 20, 2004


French on their own on weapon sales to PRC

I just came across Jonathan Power’s plea for French restraint in last Friday’s South China Morning Post. He argues that French President Jacques Chirac promotion of arm sales to the Peoples Republic of China not only threatens Taiwan’s peace, if not survival, but also a catastrophe for the whole region.

Although Taiwan suffers by not having the seat it deserves in the United Nations, in nearly every other way, it acts as an independent state. Beijing is stalled in an old imperial ambition, but gains the goodwill of Taiwanese investors with their cutting-edge technology. The US gets the best from both sides, and is happy with the fudge that keeps them calm. Europe and the rest of the world have the promise of more prosperity by trading with a peaceful China and Taiwan.

So why is the European Union considering intruding on this precariously balanced situation? A decision to start selling Beijing state-of-the-art weaponry would directly unsettle things. It is not that the weapons would improve Beijing's ability to invade Taiwan - it already has that capability. Instead, it would strengthen its hand against the US, should matters ever come to a showdown.

It is no wonder that Washington is upset, and Europe cleaved down the middle.

The split is at the top. Javier Solana, the European Union's High Representative for Foreign Policy, wants the embargo lifted. But the Commissioner for External Relations, Chris Patten, does not. The European Parliament has voted overwhelmingly against ending the embargo.

French President Jacques Chirac has said: "The embargo makes no sense today." But the French have a long record of selling arms to nations who later decide o turn their guns on the west.

For Germany, however, this is a new departure. Given that the Green Party, with its long record of opposing arms sales, has its man at the helm of the Foreign Ministry, it is incomprehensible for Berlin to support the French. Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer says pitifully: "Sometimes, there are situations where you have to make bitter decisions."

Right now, China is threatened by nobody. Sino-US relations have never been so good. Bill Clinton hit on a policy that President George W. Bush has continued - regularly drumming on about human rights issues while strengthening trade, commercial and educational links.

Part of the human rights stance has been to maintain the joint US-EU arms embargo, introduced following the massacre of students in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

If Europe is going to destabilise this carefully crafted policy, together with the equally subtle and related one towards Taiwan, then it should come up with a better idea. It surely cannot. The status quo is the best for everyone, and Europe should not work to undermine it.

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