Poor PRC Human Rights Record and Recent Anti-Secession Law Influence Debate on EU Arms Embargo

March 30, 2005

Continuing concerns in the United States and elsewhere about the Chinese government's poor human rights record and unease about the effect of recent anti-succession legislation on the security situation in the Taiwan Strait evidently have complicated EU plans to lift an arms embargo in place since 1989. In particular, international reaction to the passage of China's Anti-Secession Law has increased pressure on the EU to keep its embargo in place at present. The then-existing European Community originally imposed the embargo in June 1989 in response to the Chinese government's use of military forces to suppress peaceful student and worker protests in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. (Click here to see the relevant European Council document).

The EU proposal has faced stiff opposition from the U.S. government, both on East Asian regional security and human rights grounds. For example, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reiterated in a March 20 press conference in Seoul that the United States strongly opposes any action that would alter the balance of power in East Asia. Both Houses of Congress have also opposed the proposed move, through resolutions in both the Senate and the House that cite continued Chinese government violations of basic human rights.

Leading human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Human Rights in China, oppose the proposal to lift the embargo, citing the continued repression of dissent in China as well as the Chinese government's failure to investigate credible allegations of military and police brutality during the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989 or to admit publicly to the great loss of innocent lives in and around the Square. In addition, U.S. and East Asian government officials worry that advanced European weaponry could tip the balance of political and military power in the Taiwan Strait. Some U.S. analysts fear that the United States might eventually find itself in a military conflict against PRC forces armed with European weapons. Thus, the human rights and regional security issues have thrown the debate over ending the EU arms embargo on China into even sharper relief.



Although the evidence is mixed, the EU may be retreating from its stated intention "to work toward lifting the [EU's] arms embargo" (see page 20) against China during the first half of 2005. News media accounts, including articles in The Washington Post and The New York Times (archive edition) reported that British Foreign Minister Jack Straw had raised doubts about that plan when he said lifting the embargo in the current environment had grown more difficult rather than less difficult.

According to these news stories, if the EU does not lift the embargo during the current Luxembourg Presidency, which ends June 30, the embargo will not be lifted during the U.K. Presidency. which runs during the second half of 2005.

But as recently as March 25, in a press conference after meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, Javier Solana, the EU foreign minister, appeared optimistic in addressing the EU's work to lift the arms embargo