Sunday, December 05, 2004

Beyond comprehension

As we try to follow the twists and turns of the efforts by various parties to get the EU arms embargo on China lifted, the story has taken another bizarre twist.

As we left the story, the Chinese were exerting pressure on Schröder to support the lifting of the ban, using the leverage of a €1.4 billion order for five Airbus A380 airliners (link here).

But, such is the political sensitivity of the ban – and the opposition to lifting it – that the only hope France and Germany of succeeding is by agreeing to a strengthening of the code of conduct on EU arms sales.

Against that background (link here), you would have thought that France – which in 2002 accounted for €105 million of the €210 million of arms sale by EU countries to China - would be right behind the code of conduct, seeing to extol its virtues and not making any waves.

But not a bit of it. Despite its vital role in paving the way to the lifting of the ban, France is resisting moves to strengthen the code, and in particular the proposed requirement for arms sales to China to be openly declared by the exporting country.

Even though this provision is widely regarded a "largely symbollic" – i.e., a fig leaf – Paris is rejecting the idea out of hand. How this will play out during the 7th EU-China summit – which starts in the Netherlands on Wednesday – is anyone's guess, but it cannot help.

And why France, which is so keen to see the ban lifted, should apparently be going out of its way to sabotage its own efforts, completely defies comprehension.

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