Saturday, October 30, 2004

Not yet, they don't

Should the European Union lift the arms embargo on China, introduced after the bloody crack-down on the demonstrators in Tiananment Square in 1989? President Chirac and Chancellor Schröder say yes. (Nothing to do with the two countries’ arms producers that are eyeing the growing Chinese market longingly.)

Schröder insisted during his visit to China last December and on various occasions since then, that China has changed greatly in the last ten or so years. Others, notably the Taiwanese, the Tibetans, the Falun group, various dissidents and religious groups in China, not to mention outspoken journalists and writers, beg to disagree. China still has the largest network of labour camps for “re-education” purposes in the world.

The United States says no, arguing that lifting the embargo would simply prevent any positive developments in China’s human rights record (so dear to the heart of the EU leaders in theory) and destabilize the region. Well, of course, if the Americans are against it, the EU must be for it. That is the only guiding principle of the common foreign and security policy.

Until recently Britain and Italy were against it for many of the same reasons, but have changed their minds in a somewhat inexplicable fashion, possibly competing for that place at the heart of Europe.

The Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries remain firmly opposed for human rights reasons.

Now the ruling German coalition has voted against it in the German parliament on a motion brought in by the Greens and the Social Democrats, going against their leader, the Chancellor.

Ludger Volmer, who speaks on foreign affairs for the Greens, was cogent on the subject. China’s behaviour towards Taiwan and her human rights record made it impossible to contemplate lifting the embargo in the near future.

Others, notably the SPD, were a little more muddled. The embargo could not be lifted until certain conditions were fulfilled. And what were those conditions? Well, the EU must produce toughter guidelines on arms exports and China should sign the United Nations political and human rights pact. Well, if that’s all, I should think it could all be sorted out in a few days. After all, signing the pact does not mean you would adhere to it; and agreeing to the EU guidelines does not mean that these will be remembered five minutes after the ink is dry on all those signatures.

Still, for the moment at least, the embargo stays. What exactly will happen when the Galileo system is put into place, remains to be seen.

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