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He has turned in the wrong direction

Posted by Richard Saturday, January 15, 2005

So says The Daily Telegraph leader in a trenchant comment on Blair’s decision to support France and Germany in its efforts to lift the arms embargo on China.

It is backed by a front page story announcing: "US fury over EU weapons for China", telling of how America is waging an intense behind-the-scenes battle to stop the EU lifting the embargo, warning Britain that it will not tolerate the prospect of European military technology being used to threaten its soldiers in the Far East.

The leader is headed: "Britain sells out for the sake of China's market", and picks up on an issue that has been closely watched by this Blog since January this year. (For those who are interested, we have posted links to our coverage at the end of this piece.)

To be fair, the Guardian has also covered the issue, most recently in a story yesterday, but the Telegraph goes right to the heart of the matter.

Lifting the EU arms embargo on China, it says, has been on the cards for a while. European leaders considered it 13 months ago and in December, at a summit with China, declared their "political will" to remove it.

On Wednesday, it reports, Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, who will visit Beijing next week, said he expected that decision to be taken by the middle of the year. A sanction that China claims is a "product of the Cold War" appears in EU eyes to have outlived its usefulness.

What the Telegraph then says, really sums it all up:

In conjunction with their declaration on the embargo, the Europeans stressed that China must respect human rights and ensure regional stability. Yet these are both areas in which Beijing has hardly moved an inch. The peaceful, pro-democracy demonstrations in the heart of the capital 15 years ago are still described as a "counter-revolutionary rebellion".

Zhao Ziyang, the Communist Party chief who lost out to the hardliners in 1989, remains under house arrest. China is constantly criticising Japan for failing to accept proper responsibility for the behaviour of the militarists in the 1930s and 1940s. Yet it persists in treating Tiananmen as a taboo subject.

In a report issued yesterday, Human Rights Watch said that China had made some progress in recent years, but that it was still a "highly repressive state". Amnesty International believes that lifting the arms embargo is not justified by any improvement in the country's human rights record.
That really does put the matter in context for there has been no real movement that would justify the lifting of the ban, but the "Europeans" are determined to do it anyway – and we all know why. And the effects, as the Telegraph recounts, could be disastrous:

As for regional stability, the Taiwan Strait remains one of the world's flashpoints because of Beijing's outrageous claim that the island is part of China and its refusal to rule out the use of force to make that fiction reality. Indeed, the National People's Congress has upped the propaganda war against Taiwan by placing an "anti-secession law" on the agenda for its next session.

The Americans are naturally worried that European arms could be used by Beijing to invade the island, which they have pledged to defend. Such a conflict could also draw in Japan, where most American forces in East Asia are based. Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy representative, has said he expects Washington "will be able to live with" the lifting of the ban. Mr Straw claims that a revised code of conduct for arms exports will mean that the change will have little practical effect. That code, however, will be interpreted by each country individually and the Americans rightly suspect that it will enable the Chinese to acquire advanced battlefield technology not available from Russia.
Thus, concludes the paper:

Human rights and regional stability have been sacrificed to the draw of China's huge market and the desire to weaken American hegemony by creating a multipolar world. Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schröder have long pushed for such a decision. But for Tony Blair to follow them is to put at risk both political ties and commercial contracts with our closest ally. The Prime Minister has found himself pulled one way by Britain's special transatlantic relationship, another by Europe and the China market. He has turned in the wrong direction.
This really is a serious development, and the Telegraph is right to give it the full coverage today. Dare one hope that a certain opposition party might take it up and raise the political temperature?

Blog links

Back to the ethical policy (or not)
Global repositioning
Schröder once again calls for embargo to be lifted
Compulsory reading
The EU and the arms ban on China
China – does our government know what it is doing?
The special relationship
China worries
We don’t like your friends
One down
These principled continentals
China – the ratchet tightens
How the Chinese see us
Into the arms of the tiger
It’s the arms sales stupid
China turns the screw
Schröder under pressure on China
Beyond comprehension
They are going to do it
China still in the waiting room
The gloves are off
Loyalty under strain
Playing with fire