EU Should Keep China Arms Embargo
Image Credit: Flickr / Smudge 9000

EU Should Keep China Arms Embargo


Last month, I was in Sweden meeting with think tank and government officials. The main purpose of the visit was to discuss EU-U.S. policies toward Iran, especially the effectiveness of the international sanctions seeking to change Tehran’s nuclear policies. But some of my Swedish interlocutors, like other Europeans, also raised the issue of the ineffectiveness of the arms sanctions towards China as a reason for their skepticism regarding the Iranian sanctions.

Their arguments should be looked at, but first it’s important to offer a little background on the issue. The killing of many unarmed protesters involved in the Tiananmen Square demonstrations and elsewhere in China provoked international outrage and led many countries to adopt sanctions against Beijing, including an embargo on the sale of weapons. The EU declaration establishing an embargo is simply one sentence in a collective statement: “In the present circumstances the European Council thinks it necessary to adopt the following measures…interruption by the member states of the community of military cooperation and an embargo on trade in arms with China.”

Since then, the EU arms embargo has been seen by all as more of a symbolic act of protest than a tool for actually changing Beijing’s behavior. Technically, EU members aren’t even legally forbidden from selling military items to China. However, the 1989 EU (then the European Community) declaration is a political commitment, and EU governments are supposed to uphold the spirit of this declaration. The constraints on arms exports don’t aim to inflict economic punishment, but rather are designed to send a strong message about European values. Most disputes between the EU and China still concern human rights, which remains the single most significant stumbling block between the two parties.

Yet there’s no universal understanding of what the embargo entails in practice. Each EU member interprets the embargo in terms of their national laws, decision making processes, and regulations. Since the EU lacks strong foreign policy institutions, the arms embargo against China is best seen as a collection of national EU arms embargoes. As a result, the EU collective stance lacks coherence or means of enforcement.

Since late 2003, France has sustained a campaign calling for lifting the embargo. At times, other countries – notably Spain and Greece – have supported repeal. The United Kingdom has consistently opposed lifting the embargo in public, though reports indicate that in private, U.K. diplomats have been more flexible. Some of the EU’s new members from the former Soviet bloc have meanwhile joined with Britain on human rights grounds, remembering the horrors they suffered under Communist rule.

But proponents of repealing the arms embargo have been pushing their case. They note, for example, that the embargo complicates the EU’s relations with China and partially negates EU efforts to develop a strategic partnership with Beijing in cooperation of a variety of goals. Chinese representatives for their part consider the embargo degrading since it puts China in the same category as other EU-sanctioned countries such as Sudan, Zimbabwe, and Myanmar. PRC documents repeatedly call on the EU to repeal it.

Hans klaus
December 26, 2012 at 13:00

Ja and do not forget that Nobel prize Peace winner President legitimize and legalize torture by their CIA.
So, pretender American is actually committing war crimes like for example drone killing of harmless and innocent Afghan children. Now they are comrades in arm with same militant islamists that are responsible for their 9/11.
So USA is no angelic nation but a war crime aggressor responsible for many innocent civilian deaths that they call collateral damages.

Singapore Ah Beng
December 25, 2012 at 19:16

Some ding dang countries in europe, notably UK, are brothers in crime with the american war criminals. Tony Blair and George Bush are the most disgraceful war criminals, with their fraudulent WMD charges to kill millions of Iraqis. 

Abu Kassim
December 25, 2012 at 19:12

Embargo or no embargo.China will still have the weapons one way or another, either self developed or snuck into China by one of the EU countries. And the Europeans and Americans are big hypocrites. They supply weapons to the most vile dictators in the Middle East and Latin America countries. China did bad by crushing a few fellas in Tian An Men, but the Americans killed thousands of innocent people in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, including women and children, and the europeans are accomplice to the american war criminals, especially UK. 

December 25, 2012 at 19:04

@concernec_citizen: you are a violent dolt, and please do not use the name of God for your violent nincompoop cry. You r a disgrace to your own country.

December 25, 2012 at 01:07

What you said is correct.  I see nothing but the Master's voice. A pity Weisz has to once in a while write what his paymasters tell him. A pity indeed.

December 24, 2012 at 21:45

how are you sure its all TALKING? don't bounce back the question. US has been very responsible country and democracy was their name so poeple of this world enjoy freedom a lot. how about CHINA? what it can introduce to the world? talking much of threatening nuke bomb takes a lot of responsible decision which is WHAT IS THE BENEFIT OF IT AND WHO WILL BENEFIT? if china and soviet russia made a nuke call then conquer many nations IT WILL SIMPLY END LIKE NOKOR which millions starving and so many VIOLATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS. 

December 24, 2012 at 21:35

I GUESS THERES A LOT OF CHINESE BLOGGERS ON THIS FORUM. EUROPE is a SUPER POWER. EUROPE must stand with US and other allied nations for the glory of god PLEASE.

December 24, 2012 at 21:29

why europeans are so scared economically? why france, germany and other european nation wants to lift the ban? european nation should learn on what happen to russia. after long decades of transferring technology to china, russia faces serious problem in patent and illegal technology copy by the chinese. china showcase their so called indigeneous weapons that are so physically copied from RUSSIA also don't forget china already fooled US economically and taking advantage of this to grow their economy rapidly.europeans must understand that most of european companies establish their bussiness and manufacturing to china only to give millions of jobs to chinese and expose european technology to chinese thus copying or pirating this technology for further unfair economic growth by the chinese which at the end leaving millions of europeans jobless. EUROPE YOU SHOULD NOT BE FOOLED BY CHINESE. europe is so rich industrially and technology supreme DONT LET the chinese fooled you. EUROPE SHOULD  NOT LIFT THE BAN OF MILITARY TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER TO CHINA INSTEAD MAKE IT MORE AGGRESSIVE AGAINST RISING CHINA PLEASE. 

December 24, 2012 at 20:57

Wtf general macarthur? Your kidding me? During the ww2 china was on the side of the US, why would macarthur nuke china then? And please move on on ww2? China a puppet. Bs

December 24, 2012 at 20:50

@a_canadian_observer There is not a country in the world that is not under Government Censorship, they just do not tell you about it…and you don't notice because you never even see it. Yes, in spite of what you are told…Canada IS censored!

October 26, 2012 at 07:17

I arrive a bit late in the discussion but last September 20 in Brussels, Premier  Wen Jiabao didn't get the embargo lift he'd hoped for, nor did the EU grant China the wieshed market economy status 4 years ahead of time. That was his last EU-China summit. He didn't get his presents, just thanks and a grand banquet. Technology transfers in the weapon systems field would lead to the same results as in high-speed train or power gen or  ITC or other businesses: your Chinese partner might become your next competitor armed with your technology, and possibly your patents. Check that.

September 12, 2012 at 01:37

Yes, general MacArthur required the US to nuke bomb china. The difference is that back then US could do that and get away with it. If chinese general say something like that, it is all talking. Now it is your turn name a chinese genereal who said we are going to nuke bomb US

Share your thoughts

Your Name
Your Email
required, but not published
Your Comment

Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief