Foreign Policy Blogs

Selling Arms to China: A Bad Idea?

Over the past several weeks the debate over lifting Europe’s ban on arms sales to the PRC Government has gained momentum.

Enacted following the Tienanmen Square massacre of 1989, the ban was initially effected with the concern that such arms might be turned against China’s domestic population. Most recently, however, the European Union’s nominal High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Lady Ashton has stated, “The EU should discuss its practical implication and design a way forward.”

In so many words, a vocal minority within the EU is attempting to sway arms control policy toward a more pragmatic approach while effectively shelving concerns over human rights. This is particularly disturbing as the movement’s principal supporters include factions within the governments of France and, perhaps most troublingly, Spain – traditionally an unequivocal supporter of universal human rights. Even so, with the absence of U.S. competition in China’s growing arms market, the lure of easy profits is particularly alluring.

Yet, even if the EU were to turn a blind eye to China’s reprehensible human rights record, self-interest alone dictates that extending the prohibition would better ensure long-term global stability. A recent editorial in Defense News explains why:

When the EU tried this five years ago, the United States threatened to shutter its market to European firms, and Europe backed down. Now history must repeat itself. What was a bad idea then is even worse now.

China’s new assertiveness stems in part from its political transition, making it an especially bad time to reward such behavior by helping sharpen Beijing’s military edge when so little is known and understood about its long-term intentions. Ashton’s home country, fortunately, doesn’t see things her way. Britain opposes the move on human rights grounds and on its deep national conviction that selling to China may be a losing proposition. U.K. leaders have concluded they must trade their way out of their financial problems. But China’s proven record of stealing intellectual property makes it a high-risk trading partner. Providing access to the U.K.’s critical technologies may offer short-term gains but leave lasting headaches.

In conclusion:

It’s up to London to veto the EU initiative, and to Washington to make clear it will fight any move that dangerously shifts the balance of power in Asia.

Read the full article here: DefenseNews: Keep the Arms Ban