December 7, 2004



SUBJECT: Schroeder in China

There has recently been much talk on both sides of the Atlantic about the need to repair alliance relations. And it appears that President Bush has made this a priority in his second term. But "it takes two to tango," and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's call Monday - while on a state visit to Beijing - to end the European Union arms embargo on China suggests he has other priorities. George Bush's reelection is hardly a month old and the German leader is already dismissing what he knows to be a critical security concern of Washington.

Officials in Berlin deny that Germany has any interest in selling weapons to China. Whether this is an accurate assessment of German intent or not, it hardly ends the matter since German officials know that this will not be the policy of all the European states.

The primary motive for the Chancellor's posturing on lifting the 15-year-old arms embargo is undoubtedly his desire to increase commercial opportunities for German businesses in China. Yet, as the Financial Times editorial noted yesterday ("EU Should Stick to Arms Ban on China"), ending the ban would make Europe - with its wish to be seen as a responsible global power - "appear nothing more than a regional power blinkered by commercial greed."

American policy on this front is, as the Europeans like to point out, hardly picture perfect. Much too often, sales of American "dual use" items have been allowed to go forward that wind up in the hands of the Chinese military. And Washington has been far too reluctant to challenge past Israeli sales of military equipment to Beijing. That said, the Bush administration is absolutely right to be concerned about the impact the EU's lifting of the arms embargo would have on an increasingly worrisome Cross Strait military balance. In time, lifting the embargo will materially benefit the PLA and send an equally problematic signal to the rest of the region that Beijing's main military objective - the coercion of democratic Taiwan - is seen by Europe as implicitly legitimate. The United States underwrites Taiwan's security and the German Chancellor's position ignores the burden this places on Washington. In doing so, Schroeder calls in to question his commitment to strengthening transatlantic relations.