Tue, Mar 08, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Is Europe Taiwan's friend or foe?

By Doug Bandow

When the National People's Congress convened in Beijing last week, Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) highlighted his nation's military modernization campaign and uttered threats against Taiwan. It would be hard to find a worse time for Europe to offer China military aid.

The US and Europe have grown apart and no presidential visit will change that. Europe won't be supplementing the US-led garrison in Iraq, for instance. But Washington might be able to convince Europe not to lift its ban on arms sales to China.

The fact that the interests of sovereign nations -- even ones with historical connections -- sometimes diverge shouldn't surprise anyone. Nevertheless, the US and Europe share a number of interests, including preserving their generally free and prosperous societies. No American or European wants to see the rise of a global hegemonic authoritarian power like China.

There's much good that has happened to the People's Republic of China (PRC) over the last three decades. However, further liberalization is by no means guaranteed. And even a more democratic China might be aggressively nationalistic.

That wouldn't be so important if the country was Myanmar or Zimbabwe, two other states under an EU arms embargo. But Beijing is likely to eventually marry the world's largest population with the largest economy. Even that needn't be frightening. After all, there were sometimes significant tensions between a rising US and declining Britain, but they ultimately forged one of the closest international relationships in existence.

With China, however, the differences are more significant, and these differences could conceivably lead to war. Should conflict come, it would be in the interests of Europe that the US prevail.

The EU implemented an arms embargo after the Chinese regime's slaughter of demonstrators in Tiananmen Square. But European firms see potential profits from servicing Beijing's growing desire for weapons. Some Europeans also hope to advance their goal of becoming a counterweight to the US.

The betting now is that the EU will drop the prohibition at its June meeting in Brussels. If Europe planned on becoming a military counterweight to China, Washington could say go ahead. But despite European talk of establishing an independent foreign policy, even leading nations like Germany have no intention of spending the money necessary to develop serious military capabilities. The obligation for real war fighting will remain America's.

Unfortunately, Beijing is thinking about war. Shi Yinhong (石印紅), a professor of international relations at Beijing's People's University explains: "China really wants to have another source for modernizing its military, especially for the possibility of military confrontation with Taiwan."

And confrontation with Taiwan could lead to confrontation with the US, which means high-tech weapons sold by Europe could be used against the US. Some EU officials point to Israeli weapons transfers to Beijing, but that is no less an unfriendly act.

Others promise to limit the sort of weapons they sell. But that won't be much solace should conflict occur. French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie has argued that European sales might slow Chinese development of its own capabilities. Actually, even European businesspeople worry that China wants to appropriate technology as much as acquire weapons.

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