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The government really understands its business

Posted by Helen Monday, February 07, 2005

It is becoming more and more obvious that the American government, whose military and intelligence support is a good deal more necessary to us than that of, say, Luxembourg or Belgium (even if we could get this), is getting more and more anxious about the EU proposal to lift the arms ban on China.

At the same time human rights organizations are falling over themselves to show that China has not actually transmogrified itself into a liberal democracy and John Stuart Mill has not become the best known writer in that country.

Our own government, on the other hand, seems to be living in some kind of a fool’s paradise. Last week, in the House of Lords, there was a short debate on the subject.

Lord Willoughby de Broke asked Her Majesty’s Government

“Whether they intend to resume arms sales to China”.
On behalf of HMG Baroness Symons explained firmly but kindly that there are already “exports of equipment on the military list from this country to China”. But the EU embargo does not prohibit such exports so that’s OK.
“Our exports are subject to the UK’s consolidated criteria, which are among the strictest control measures anywhere in the world and, in our view, offer the best guarantee that military exports will not be used for internal repression nor external aggression.”
I hate saying it, but the views of Baroness Symons and her colleagues count for very little with the Chinese Politburo and there is very little those control measures can accomplish once the equipment from the military list has gone to Beijing or, more to the point, to the Straits in order to menace Taiwan.

Lord Willoughby pushed the matter further and enquired whether the Noble Minister had discussed these matters with “our close allies, the United States of America”.

His fears were pooh-poohed. Clearly, Lord Willoughby and other peers, for instance, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, have misunderstood the situation. The word embargo has confused them. There never was a complete embargo, therefore, obviously, it cannot be lifted. There will merely be more and more and more sales of arms to China.

Well, that’s all right there. Had me worried for a moment. Of course, the noble baroness forgot to reply to the question about the United States and its attitude but one cannot have everything. However, she did add:
“Under our forthcoming EU presidency, the UK Government would like to discuss strengthening in a number of key respects the code which regulates the export of items on the military list throughout the European Union.”
No doubt it would. And no doubt there will be discussions. And no doubt there will be solemn agreements. How will that affect anything of any importance?