Fri, Dec 10, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: EU embargo is good for the region

The EU's fifteen-year-old arms embargo against China will remain in place -- for now. Yet there's little cause for celebration, since all signs indicate that it's only a matter of time before the embargo is lifted. Right now, observers estimate it will happen in the spring of next year. However, the EU will be making a grave mistake if and when it does lift the ban. According to EU spokeswoman Francoise le Bail, "concern" about "civil rights, freedom of expression" and other human rights in China was the reason for the decision made during a two-day summit held between leaders of the Chinese and EU governments this week.

It's hard to imagine that human rights conditions in China will improve significantly in the future. After all, Beijing has had 15 years to improve things, but no serious efforts have been made. Human Rights Watch said it best in a statement released before the summit, in opposition to lifting the ban: "China's army turned its guns on its own people. If the ban is lifted, the next attack could be with weapons supplied by EU states." That is real food for thought, though EU governments are eager and desperate to export their advanced weapons to Beijing.

Proponents of lifting the embargo, including France and Germany, argue that things have changed over the past 15 years since Beijing's bloody crackdown on pro-democracy student protestors in Tiananmen Square. They are certainly right ? not only has Beijing failed to show any repentance for the crackdown and continued to abuse basic human rights, but they have gone on to become an even greater threat to regional peace. Fifteen years ago, China began developing economically, and today it is both backed by enormous wealth accumulated from rapid economic growth and propelled by its endless ambition. It has become a rapidly rising military power that poses a serious challenge even to the US, the world's superpower.

China's neighbors, of course, have a deeper appreciation of the threat posed by their powerful neighbor. Take Japan: Only this past Tuesday, the Japanese government lodged protests through formal diplomatic channels after confirming that a Chinese ship was conducting research off Japan's southernmost island Okinotorishima, and asked China to cease all unannounced geographical research in Tokyo's exclusive economic zone. Less than a month before, the Japanese protested a brief incursion by a Chinese submarine in Japanese waters.

Then there is of course Taiwan. Surely, no country in the world knows better what it is like to live with China's military threats, day after day. China's threat against Taiwan is so real that it was the reason the US opposed lifting the EU ban. According to Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue (章啟月) "to maintain such an embargo is discriminatory." Beijing has gone all-out in ensuring discriminatory treatment against Taiwan in the international community, including forcing even non-political organizations such as the World Health Organization to shut their doors to Taiwan. This is not to mention the de facto arms embargo imposed against Taiwan as a result of Chinese protest against any government that tries to sell arms to Taiwan. As a result, the US has become the only country that dares to sell arms to Taiwan. Now that is what one calls discriminatory treatment.

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