PositionEU to consider lift of ban on arms exports to China

The EU-US policy "dialogue" of the past few years has been scarred by divergent views on many issues. While the squabbles have certainly grown louder and deeper since a large chunk of Europe refused in early 2003 to go along with US President George W Bush's war in Iraq, one shouldn't forget that squabbling has always marked the EU-US relationship.

There is, however, one subject of discordance that is far more than just a squabble: Europe's approaching decision in April or May to lift its ban on arms exports to China.

This subject carries ominous reverberations for transatlantic relations. So far, it has been badly handled by both sides of the Atlantic because their political and economic perspectives do not match.

Europe sees an economic partner in China. Washington sees a potential military rival, and a threat to Asia's regional stability. Europe says its voluntary code of conduct on arms exports can be beefed up enough to prevent any strategic weapons from reaching China. Washington thinks that is preposterous. Europe says political and economic pressure are enough to coax China toward respecting human rights while selling it arms. Washington scoffs at the idea.

Though mercenary interests are at play on both sides, Washington bears the greater blame for this situation. Its huge military budget coddles its defence companies, which are shielded by tough laws against foreign competition. Europe's collective...

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