US and EU officials will meet next week to initiate a strategic dialogue on Asia that will center on the EU's efforts to lift its arms embargo on China, the impact on Taiwan, and American efforts to block the EU action, US Undersecretary for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns announced in Washington on Thursday.
Burns disclosed the plans for the dialogue at a joint hearing of the House International Relations Committee and the House Arms Services Committee on the arms embargo issue. The hearing came amid strong congressional concern over the implications of lifting the ban for Taiwan and for the US strategic position in East Asia.
The Europeans have been pushing for a strategic dialogue since early this year in response to fervent opposition by Washington to Europe's plan to expand arms sales to Beijing. An EU delegation to Washington last month received a favorable response from US officials to their proposal for a strategic dialogue, and Burns, speaking in London last week, signaled the Bush administration's acceptance of the idea.
He repeated that during Thursday's hearing.
"What is now abundantly clear is that there is a great need to undertake a strategic dialogue with the EU on this issue [the embargo]," Burns said.
"And we will soon begin, in fact next week, a dialogue with the European Union where we will describe our interests in the United States of America as the guarantor of peace and security in Asia and the Pacific region, and in the Straits of Taiwan itself. And that strategic dialogue is long overdue, the EU has agreed to have it, and we think it might assist in resolving this dispute," Burns said.
"This will not be a negotiation over terms for lifting the embargo, but a means of ensuring, among other goals, that EU members understand the real dangers to regional security that lifting the embargo would pose," he said.
Burns reiterated US concerns that lifting the embargo would affect regional stability and hurt US security interests, and send the wrong signal in view of China's "Anti-Secession" Law.
Citing President George W. Bush's statement in February in Brussels that a transfer of technology to China would change the balance of relations between China and Taiwan, Burns said, "lifting the embargo now could also be seen as an endorsement of China's recent anti-secession legislation."
Later, he said the Anti-Secession Law had "backfired" on China by prompting Europe to reconsider its decision to lift the arms embargo, and bolstering the impact of American objections to the lifting.
Burns also echoed administration complaints about a lack of progress in China's human rights record.