Another Question

Apparently, lifting the embargo on selling arms to China is high on the agenda for the meeting of the EU foreign ministers next week.

The reasonably senior US diplomat said he wondered what the EU would be getting if it chose to lift the embargo now. Is there more than just contracts involved? Or are the sales enough?

Along with all of the major German parties, I’m finding this a peculiar time to lift an embargo, given the law that China just passed.

This entry was posted in A Fistful Of Euros, Europe and the world and tagged , by Doug Merrill. Bookmark the permalink.

About Doug Merrill

Freelance journalist based in Tbilisi, following stints in Atlanta, Budapest, Munich, Warsaw and Washington. Worked for a German think tank, discovered it was incompatible with repaying US student loans. Spent two years in financial markets. Bicycled from Vilnius to Tallinn. Climbed highest mountains in two Alpine countries (the easy ones, though). American center-left, with strong yellow dog tendencies. Arrived in the Caucasus two weeks before its latest war.

12 thoughts on “Another Question

  1. No, I suspect it’s just about the money. There has been a lot of pressure to get China to buy more European stuff in the last year. The French government’s been pushing China connections a lot, and a Belgian minister even proposed (not entirely facetiously) that Belgian children should study Chinese in school the way they do English now. The intent is to see China buy more European goods with its copious dollar trade surpluses.

    China is spending a lot of money on guns and aerospace, and a far closer US ally has has had to stop selling arms to China, apparently at Washington’s request. To some extent the market only recently opened up for Europe.

    Yeah, it’s dumb idea. It’s a dumb idea to try to make a profit out of international arms sales in the first place, and its even dumber to place those profits ahead of political considerations. But weapons sales are a bit like the tobacco industry: They say to themselves, if they don’t buy it from us, they’ll just buy it from someone else. Wouldn’t that money be better used paying pensions to elderly Europeans than lining the pockets of Putin’s cronies? China is far away, and it really isn’t a threat to Europe, so it’s easy for European leaders to convince themselves that they aren’t threating their own nations. It’s fool’s logic, but it’s easy to convince yourself of. If the war in Iraq wasn’t keeping US arms suppliers fully employed, it’s entirely possible the US Congress would be looking at doing the same thing to help reduce its trade deficit.

  2. Scott Martens,

    U.S. manufacturers already sell arms and a lot of advanced technology that can be used for weaponry to China. We have statutes against it, but we poorly regulate it. This is one of the reasons why I consider the U.S. position hypocritical.

  3. Yes, according to figures in the Economist and the Washington Times, China gets about 6.7% of its arms and arms-related imports from the US vs. about 2.7% from the EU. I’ve discussed the issue a couple of times on my site, with some input from a correspondent in Taipei.

    So while the US may be hypocritical on this, it certainly doesn’t excuse the EU lifting the ban right now, in the wake of the Taiwan sabre-rattling (or even at all).

  4. I don’t like the analogy with smoking. If China does not buy weaponry, it will make it – just like Israel. Soon, we’ll all have radio controlled cruise missiles under the tree at christmas instead of racing cars. And, China has nukes.

    Give him the weapons he needs, and he’ll find it more difficult to go the step further to those weapons he desires but doesn’t need.

  5. Without picking sides, the key issue is the quality of arms sold.

    Of course, any arms purchased are considered to be desirable, one would presume.

    And one most often sells by convincing the buyer of the quality of an item.

    But it still is likely true that selling certain advaanced technologies is what most concerns the US or EU countries who have such technologies (the main arms sellers).

  6. Interesting comments from Condi: she said the EU “should do nothing to contribute to a circumstance in which Chinese military modernisation draws on European technology”. Plus a sharp reminder that the region is the US’s, not Europe’s, military playground.

    I am not a military technologist, but this sounds a little hypocritical:
    China has made it plain that it believes it should be the military power in the region. The US cannot do anything about this without creating the problems it seeks to avoid
    China already has intercontinental ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads. (Whether they will hit what they’re pointed at is another question, but with nukes who cares.) They also have a successful manned space program. Originally, these programs came from Russia (the US’s ally in space) however, increasingly they are home-grown or rather home-improved by extremely bright Chinese technicians trained at American Universities. Half a million foreign students pay the US handsomely for their education and the largest single group are the Chinese (China, Hong Kong & Taiwan) It is hard to imagine a more potent potential weapons technology
    The primary reason China is currently seeking to upgrade its military is in response to increased firepower in the region under the control of the US and its allies there. Recently, the US has increased its destruction potential from more- than- the- rest- of- the- world- put- together to mttrotwpt + 30%
    one of the constant moans coming out of Washington is that other nations are not doing enough to defend themselves and relying too heavily on the US
    Of course, none of this really counts if China really is a threat to the region so one sobering thought: in an attemt to modernise, China recently raised its military budget to $20B ($15 per capita), the US’s military budget is $400B ($1,500 per capita, 10,000% more).

    So what about Taiwan? My feeling is that China’s new law has more to do with the US saying “Don’t you dare…” If China & Taiwan continue to grow rich together, and China doesn’t feel threatened, why should it foul the nest.

    Additionally, the primary risks in the world’s security today are decidedly low-tech and ideological. China is already one of the world’s largest manufacturers of low-tech weapons and not renowned for trying to export its ideology.

  7. _If China & Taiwan continue to grow rich together, and China doesn’t feel threatened, why should it foul the nest._

    Michael – I think that fundamentally misses the point about Chinese attitudes to Taiwan. They are of course interested in growing rich together. But to them Taiwan is part of China. If the Californians declared themselves independent, could you see Washington saying “oh well, we both benefit from the trade between ourselves, so let’s just leave things as they are…”? Absolutely not. The US fought a civil war over that, and ultimately China will not tolerate Taiwan inching towards independence. That is what the new anti-secession law is all about.

  8. The US fought a civil war over that…

    The situation with Taiwan has been there for 50 or so years and nobody has done much about it so far. If anybody was really intent on starting WW3 to force an unwilling Taiwanese people back into China-proper, I don’t think that they’d be playing around making laws. After all, who are they trying to justify themselves to?

    Historically, the Chinese are a very patient people. Wait another 50 or so years and Taiwan could be begging China to take it back.

    I think that its a mistake to assume that actions when taken by China indicate the same as they would when taken by the US.

  9. Thanks for the sobering thoughts Michael.

    Apart from that, there is another sobering thought.
    During the first war on Iraq under the first Bush I came to the conclusion that weapons sold abroad absolutely have to be useless against the country that made them. Inevitable weaknesses in the arms systems are secretly being enhanced, preferrably in a way that will make fighting these systems almost funny. We had that kind of reports, didn*t we?
    Do I have any evidence of this? Of course not, who would buy any Russian, French or US-weapons with this evidence.
    Does it make perfect sense?
    Absolutely.
    You agree with me if you give it a second thought.

  10. Well I was disgusted with the EU’s decision to lift the embargo on China – it’s still a totalitarian communist state for crying out loud.

  11. it’s still a totalitarian communist state for crying out loud.

    Yeah. We Europeans should stick to the totalitarian non-communist states like America does.

    (I thought these ideas died with McCarthy. Come back education, all is forgiven.)

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