Banned In Beijing

2 minute read
J.F.O. McALLISTER

The campaign spear-headed by France and Germany to lift the European Union’s ban on selling arms to China foundered at the E.U. summit last week. Anger at Beijing’s human-rights abuses; the new Chinese “antisecession” law authorizing war if Taiwan edges towards independence, which drew hundreds of thousands of protesters onto the streets of Taipei late last week; and intense pressure from Washington — which fears it might one day be on the receiving end of high-tech weapons in the Taiwan Strait — led several E.U. members to sidle away from a deal to lift the embargo by June.

Shen Dingli, a professor of international affairs at Shanghai’s Fudan University, thinks Beijing “didn’t expect this reaction” to the antisecession law, even though a top aide to E.U. foreign-policy czar Javier Solana says European ministers warned their Chinese counterparts it would boomerang. Solana’s aide says “nobody’s closed the door” on lifting the ban, but admits “the tonality has really changed.”

Despite the embargo, China is still the world’s biggest weapons importer as its military hustles to modernize — over 13 billion dollars’ worth between 1999 and 2004, mostly from Russia, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Can Europe sell China what it wants while still satisfying the U.S.? Last week, British M.P.s suggested that a new E.U. code of conduct being developed to replace the embargo might break the transatlantic impasse if it gave “absolute assurances … that there will be no qualitative or quantitative increase in arms exports to China and that sensitive technologies will not be transferred.” What Washington would really like is an arrangement like it has with Israel, which has sold $35 million in arms to China since 2000. It clears purchases that might disturb the U.S. in advance. That degree of subservience won’t fly in Paris or Berlin — nor end China’s human-rights abuses. Sighs a British diplomat: “This mess isn’t going away.”

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com