US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher on Tuesday reiterated the US' concern about lifting the EU arms embargo on China. It is obvious that the relationship between the US and China has reached a new depth under the US' so-called "engagement" policy, which was implemented for some very obvious pragmatic reasons. However, the US is also growing increasingly concerned about the rising military strength of Beijing.
The level of US concern is further demonstrated by the Committee on Foreign Investments, which is made up of 11 US agencies, including the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security. The committee has expressed concern about IBM's sale of its personal-computer business to China's Lenovo Group.
Reportedly the committee is concerned that Beijing might use IBM facilities in the US to engage in industrial espionage to obtain the technology it needs for military modernization. If the committee refuses to approve the sale, it would not be the first time it has said no to investment from China for reasons of national security.
In 2003, Global Crossing had to scrap a deal to sell its telecommunications network to Hutchison-Whampoa, a Hong Kong-based group, for precisely that reason. Under the circumstances, the likelihood of the US imposing sanctions on European arms firms conducting business with China is not to be underestimated.
Japan is also taking the arms ban issue very seriously. Contrary to its typically humble and pandering posture toward China, Japan has spoken out against the lifting of the EU arms embargo. Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura indicated last week that the possible lifting of the embargo is of "great concern" not only to Tokyo, but also the "security of East-Asia as a whole."
Unfortunately, despite strong pressure from the US and Japan, the EU seems adamant about lifting the ban. The only questions that remain are when the embargo will be lifted, and whether a code of conduct will be imposed. It is generally believed that the ban will be lifted within six months.
As for a code of conduct to ensure that European weaponry is not used for external aggression and internal repression, it is just hard for anyone to honestly believe that such a code can be effectively enforced. Once Beijing violates the code, what can the EU do about it? Whatever the EU does then, it will be too late, and the damage will have been done.
So the talk of imposing a code of conduct is simply a way of justifying something that everyone knows is wrong. The question is why the EU stubbornly insists on going through with it, when even the European Parliament has adopted multiple resolutions opposing the lifting of the embargo.
It is hard not to point out the enormously lucrative opportunities that would be created once EU nations can openly sell arms to Beijing, which is eager to modernize its military by diversifying the sources of its arms purchases, which currently is primarily Russia.
On the other hand, China has cited some extremely laughable grounds to argue for lifting the embargo. First, that it would not go on an "arms shopping spree" after the ban is lifted (didn't Beijing also say that Taiwan "longs" for unification with the "motherland?"). Second, that the embargo is a form of "political discrimination" against Beijing -- which is akin to a murderer protesting that his prison sentence is the result of discrimination.