US House lambasts EU on China arms

WRONG MESSAGE: US lawmakers overwhelmingly passed a resolution criticizing the plan to lift an arms ban on Beijing, citing the threat to regional stability

By Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

Fri, Feb 04, 2005 - Page 1

The US House of Representatives Wednesday approved by a 411-3 vote a resolution condemning the EU's intention to lift its arms embargo on China, saying the move would imperil peace and stability in East Asia.

The resolution calls on US President George W. Bush to urge European leaders during his planned trip to the continent later this month to "reconsider this unwise course of action" and to close loopholes in the embargo and Europe's arms export rules to prevent any future sales of arms or related technology to China.

Beijing's military buildup and its strategic policies "remain shrouded in mystery" and "imply challenges for ... United States commitments and interests related to the defense of numerous friends and allies in the region, particularly Taiwan and Japan," the resolution says.

"The United States has numerous national interests in the Asia and Pacific region, including the security of Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and other key areas," it says. As a result, US armed forces could be endangered because China is "increasingly well-armed and may seek to settle long-standing territorial and political disputes in the region by the threat and use of force."

It also notes that despite the embargo, European arms sales to China doubled between 2002 and 2003 to US$540 million.

The resolution, which was passed under special House "suspension" rules that allow for quick consideration and vote, was sponsored by International Relations Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, the committee's ranking Democrat, Tom Lantos and two others.

In an address to the floor of the House, Lantos zeroed in on the implications for Taiwan. Expressing optimism that cross-strait relations could be settled peacefully, Lantos said, "despite these factors working in favor of peace across the Taiwan Strait, it is possible mainland hardliners might push for military action against Taiwan after the 2008 Olympics, or that conflict in the Strait may begin because of miscalculation by either side."

"It is in this context that the European Union's current deliberations on the lifting of its arms embargo on China are so outrageous," Lantos said, adding that "I remain optimistic that tensions across the Taiwan Strait can be resolved peacefully, and that the United States will not be drawn into a Taiwan-related conflict.".

"Key policymakers in Beijing fully understand that military action against Taiwan would spark international isolation, possible military conflict with the United States and a certain boycott of the much-prized 2008 Olympics in Beijing," he said.

"Taiwan's leaders, for their part, fully understand that the increasing economic ties between Taiwan and the mainland would be threatened by provocative steps." "President Chen [Shui-bian (陳水扁)] and Vice President [Annette Lu (呂秀蓮)] in Taiwan fully understand that Taiwan must negotiate with the mainland from a position of strength, which requires immediate approval by Taiwan's legislature of a supplemental defense package," Lantos said.

Steve Chabot, a co-chairman of the Congressional Taiwan Caucus, said that lifting the embargo would quickly tip the military balance in the Strait in Beijing's favor.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she would bring up the issue with European leaders in her trip to seven European capitals beginning today.

Rice told reporters that in view of the Human Rights concerns that led to the embargo in the wake of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre in Beijing, "one has to be very careful not to send the wrong signal about human rights. And, of course, we do have concerns about the strategic military considerations of doing so."

Asked whether she is resigned to the actual lifting of the embargo, Rice said, "we're not resigned to anything. I think at this point we need to continue to discuss it and work it out."

She declined to discuss any possible US retaliation against the EU if the embargo is lifted. Some members of Congress have discussed imposing some sort of retaliation, including imposing restrictions on transfers to Europe.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed welcome yesterday for the passage of the resolution.