Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Looks like the embargo might stay

Noises are being made both in America and in Europe that maybe, perhaps, the Chinese arms embargo might not be lifted this year.

“We” are, of course, still committed to its lifting. After all, France and Germany need those orders, though, as French Defence Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie tried to explain in Washington a couple of weeks ago, lifting the embargo would not mean more arms being sold while at the same time it will ensure that the Chinese do not develop their own arms. That famous Gallic logic seems to have failed her.

Several things made the immediate lifting of the embargo difficult. One was the unremitting American pressure that came from the Bush administration and Congress.

Condoleezza Rice reiterated several time both during and immediately after her trip to Asia that lifting the embargo would be seen as assisting the destabilization of the area. These views have been echoed recently by Japan and India and worries expressed by Russia, Australia and other Pacific countries.

After visits by French and British ministers, Javier Solana stepped in and sent a top level envoy, Annalisa Giannella, to explain to the Americans … well, what precisely?

The need to lift the embargo? The advisability of such an action? Its lack of importance? Whatever it is she told them, according to the New York Times, “Ms Giannella was said to have persuaded no one, especially in Congress”.

In fact, after her visit
“Congressional leaders reiterated their opposition to lifting the embargo, in some cases threatening retaliation by blocking purchases of European military equipment for American forces”.
Quite possibly, it occurred to some people in the European Commission and the Council of Ministers that losing the American market would be a high price to pay for a dubiously valuable Chinese one.

But this is more than just a question of American pressure.

Of even greater importance has been the recently passed Anti-Secession Law. It is true that China has continued with its persecution of all dissidents, in many cases quite blatantly. But this has never bothered the European Union or its spokespersons, who insist that sending a positive signal to China would somehow miraculously change that situation.

Still, even the EU could not ignore the fact that China has blatantly and unnecessarily passed a law to say that, if they see fit, they might invade Taiwan. That is not what President Chirac and Chancellor Schröder wanted to hear.

More particularly, that is not what Prime Minister Blair wanted to hear. As it became more and more likely that the lifting of the embargo will have to take place during the British presidency, he and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw started wriggling more and more blatantly.

Last heard of, Mr Straw was babbling not of green brooks but of the Chinese situation becoming “more difficult rather than less difficult” and about “a difficult political environment” being created by the Chinese Anti-Secession Law. Quite so, minister.

Furthermore, as John Tkacik of Heritage Foundation has pointed out, lifting the embargo would not necessarily have been a particularly popular policy in Europe. The German media and politicians, in particular, have been protesting against the plan and Chancellor Schröder is in no position politically to ignore protests indefinitely.

Voices have been raised in Austria, the Scandinavian countries and, occasionally, even in Britain (though not among those who boast of the EU’s “supersoft power” vanquishing the monsters of international politics).

It seems that the plan may abandoned. But fear not. It will return. As a senior European official told the New York Times:
“Europe wants to move forward on the embargo, but the recent actions by China have made things a lot more complex. The timeline has become more difficult. The timeline is going to have to slip.”
You can’t keep a good idea down.

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