EU embargo must stay
Recent news stories reporting that my country of birth, the UK, is laying the ground work for the lifting of the EU arms embargo against China when it assumes the presidency later this year are very distressing, for a number of reasons.
Remember that the reason for the imposition of the embargo was the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, in which the Chinese army brutally repressed unarmed, pro-democracy student demonstrators with an array of military hardware, including tanks and machine guns. Who can forget that striking image of the lone man, shopping bags in hand, bravely blocking the path of the tanks as they slowly rumbled by on their cruel mission?
Now, only 16 years later, the European Parliament, under heavy pressure from countries with substantial arms trades, most notably the UK, France and Germany, are considering lifting the ban. How can they be considering this kind of action when there has been no noticeable improvement in the style of government in China? The same autocratic, dictatorial regime that ruled the country then is still in power today.
The nations pushing for the lifting of the ban will point to the fact that, since that fateful period in June 1989, China has slowly started improving the living standards of many of its citizens, and that economically it has entered the global community. They also point out that before any arms deals go through, any purchaser -- China in this case -- would be required to give assurances that the arms will not be used for such purposes as violating human rights, oppressing its citizens, persecuting ethnic minorities, or external aggression.
How can the EU give any credence to a promise that originates from the current regime in Beijing? Remember that this is the same regime that is a signatory to most of the UN Conventions on Human Rights. How-ever, it still routinely executes scores of people for minor crimes, such as corruption, fraud and petty theft.
This is the same regime that routinely persecutes its citizens for their religious beliefs, most notably in Tibet, but who can forget the treatment meted out to followers of Falun Gong, the meditation group that "threatened state security?" And this is the same regime that has used the US-led "war on terror" to brutally crack down on Muslim separatists in the northwestern province of Xinjiang.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said he "understood Beijing's viewpoint that to lump China together with Burma and Zimbabwe is not appropriate."
Why is this the case? Burma and Zimbabwe are notorious for the various ways in which they have cracked down on their opposition parties, by using violence, imprisonment, keeping leaders under house arrest for years and denying their people the right to democracy. Has Straw forgotten what happened to the fledgling China Democracy Party just a few years ago? Some of its leaders received prison sentences of up to 15 years for the "criminal" act of organizing a political party. This reason alone should be enough to keep China "lumped" together with other oppressive states.
Has he also forgotten that Beijing has over 500 ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan and that it regularly threatens the nation with invasion unless Taipei agrees to eventual unification? How can Straw and the other European leaders and defense ministers be sure that these weapons will not be used in a future conflict with Taiwan? Even the US, the world's biggest supplier of military equipment, refuses to sell weapons to China for fear that they would be used for this purpose.