Expressing concern that more European arms sales to China could heighten the risk of a Chinese attack on Taiwan, the US House International Relations Committee on Thursday unanimously passed a bill to impose a wide array of sanctions against the countries and firms that sell arms to Beijing.
The bill would empower the president to impose penalties for two years or longer, including banning weapons sales, withholding military assistance, ending participation in joint weapon and technology research programs and tightening export controls.
The measure would carry out threats that congressional leaders made when the EU announced plans last December to lift its embargo on arms sales to China by this summer.
Under strong US pressure and in the wake of Beijing's passage of the "Anti-Secession" law that authorizes a military attack on Taiwan under certain conditions, the European Parliament in April voted against lifting the embargo, while the European Commission has also decided to maintain the embargo.
However, the bill complains, none of the European countries that have sold arms to China has moved to end or temporarily suspend sales.
The East Asia Security Act of 2005 was unanimously adopted by the International Relations Committee and now goes to the full House.
If the House passes it, the bill or parallel legislation would have to be approved by the Senate before final congressional passage. There is currently no such bill before the Senate.
The bill expresses the hope that a US-EU strategic dialogue begun in the spring will convince the Europeans of the danger to Taiwan of further arms sales to China.
The dialogue also should "clarify for United States friends and allies in Europe how their `non-lethal' arms transfers improve the force projection of the People's Republic of China, are far from benign and enhance the prospects for the threat or use of force in resolving the status of Taiwan," the bill said.
It called the arms sales and the Chinese threat "a troubling prospect made more ominous" by the Anti-Secession Law.
While sanctions on those selling weapons to China would be discretionary to begin with, they would be mandatory for repeat offenders.
The bill would require new and tougher export licensing requirements for access to sensitive US weapons technology for those selling arms to China, and could tighten export controls on their purchase of dual-use items, which have both military and industrial applications.
The president would be permitted to waive the sanctions if needed in the national security interest.
The president would also be required to submit periodic reports to Congress on countries and firms selling arms to China, and would give Congress a role in determining which sanctions to impose.
In a statement before the committee vote on the measure, committee chairman Henry Hyde welcomed the apparent EU decision not to lift the community's embargo on China arms sales, but warned that individual countries had not pledged to end their arms sales, which have grown substantially in recent years.
Those countries' silence "implies that EU member states who have been aiding China's threatened military buildup may continue to do so," which is "very disappointing and troubling," Hyde said.
He said that European weapons sales to China skyrocketed between 2001 and 2003, increasing eight-fold to US$540 million.
Hyde said the sales included items that increase the range, reliability and deadliness of China's attack aircraft and submarines. Both of those would be vital to any Chinese attack on Taiwan.
Such sales were troubling for the security of US forces in East Asia, "for the defense of friends and allies in the region, and for regional stability more broadly," he said.
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