Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Alliot-Marie : EU arms embargo lift against China does not destabilize Taiwan Straight!


"The French defense minister, Michèle Alliot-Marie,
visits the United States this week, hoping to capitalize
on improving trans-Atlantic relations and win some
measure of support for the European Union's plan to lift
its arms embargo against China. . In an interview just
before her trip, the first by a ministerial-level
official since President George W. Bush's visit to
Europe last month, Alliot-Marie argued that the embargo,
which dates from the massacre of students by the Chinese
military in June 1989, is largely symbolic and that the
same effect can be had with strict export controls.

She dismissed fears that lifting the ban would lead to
increased weapons sales to China, potentially
destabilizing the delicate equilibrium across the Taiwan
Strait. China claims sovereignty over Taiwan and has
threatened to take the island by force if it ever claims
formal independence, though for now the mainland's
military is underequipped to carry out such a maneuver.
. "Lifting the embargo doesn't mean at all that we are
going to sell more arms to China," Alliot-Marie said
Monday in her large and ornate office in the ministry
building, hung with portraits of France's military
heroes. She added that France was sensitive to Taiwan's
situation. "We're not irresponsible," she said. . The
embargo prohibits arms sales to China except through
special export licenses. According to the European
Union, French export licenses to China were valued in
2003 at €171 million, or about $225 million, the most of
any member state and up from €105 million in 2002. .
Alliot-Marie said there were no weapons sales planned
that would otherwise be blocked by the embargo. Instead,
Europe is more immediately interested in removing what
she calls a psychological barrier to improved EU-China
relations. . On a more concrete level, China could
reward the EU for lifting the ban: Beijing is
notoriously political in choosing between Boeing and
Airbus for its state-run airlines, for example.

Tension over the plan to lift the arms embargo against
China, probably later this year, comes as France and the
United States are drawing closer on several important
fronts, most notably in their joint effort to force
Syria to withdraw troops from Lebanon and in a more
coordinated approach to dissuading Iran from developing
a nuclear weapons capability. . Even on Iraq, the issue
over which France and the United States were furthest
apart, the two are sounding more conciliatory. While
France has refused to send any military personnel to
Iraq, it has offered to spend €15 million to train 1,500
Iraqi military police in neighboring Qatar or in France,
which is "as much as all of NATO has proposed,"
Alliot-Marie said. Iraq has not responded to France's
offer. . Alliot-Marie, a strong proponent of a European
identity powerful enough to act without the support or
acquiescence of the United States, argued that U.S. and
European goals and values are the same and that recent
trans-Atlantic divisions have frequently been more a
matter of form than substance. . "When we speak, we
perhaps take into greater account the psychology of the
people in matters of international relations," she said,
adding that what differs are the methods that Europe
uses to arrive at the same end. "We think we should lead
people to share in a certain number of things with us
that we can't necessarily impose." . China is a case in
point. Alliot-Marie argues that China has evolved
enormously since 1989 and that it is unfair to maintain
an embargo that sends a powerful negative signal. She
said that denying weapons sales to China could even
accelerate the country's own weapons programs.

"If the country sees that it has no access to certain
types of material, it will accelerate and amplify its
efforts in those areas," she said. "Either we want to
keep China ostracized at the risk that it will turn
inward with all of the dangers that could have, or we
consider China as a great country with which we should
develop our economic and political relations." . She
noted that even Japan and Australia have lifted 1989-era
sanctions against the country. She argues that the
embargo is incomplete in any case. It does not cover
much potentially innocuous technology that China could
use to develop its own weapons systems, for instance.
Such dual-use technology is already under strict
national controls, and the EU has proposed tightening
its code of conduct on sensitive exports if it lifts the
embargo against China. . Russia and Israel have been
China's main weapons suppliers, but even they have been
careful not to sell China latest-generation weaponry.
France and Europe would do the same, she said. . "We
don't sell our state-of-the-art technologies to just
anyone," she said, adding that France maintains one of
the tightest export control regimes in the world. "It's
not in our interest and we have no such intent." .
Alliot-Marie dismissed talk by some members of Congress
about retaliatory restrictions on selling U.S. military
technology to Europe. . "That it isn't at all
reasonable, nor constructive for U.S.-European
relations," she said. Such threats "send an extremely
negative signal." IHT

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