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 You are in: Under Secretary for Political Affairs > From the Under Secretary > Remarks > 2005 Under Secretary for Political Affairs Remarks

The National Security and Foreign Policy Implications for the United States of Arms Exports to the People's Republic of China by Member States of the European Union

R. Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary for Political Affairs
Testimony before the House Committee on International Relations and the House Armed Services Committee
Washington, DC
April 14, 2005

Chairman Hyde, Chairman Hunter, distinguished members of the committee, thank you very much for this opportunity to be with you this morning as we discuss the critical issue of European Union arms exports to China. This is my first testimony before both of your committees. I've just taken office a month ago, so I'll be pleased to have any conversations you wish in the future on this or other critical foreign policy issues.

This particular issue is of central importance to the United States, and particularly regarding our interest in the Asia-Pacific region. It intersects with our relations with many of our most important allies in Europe, Mr. Chairman, as you have just noted. That is why we have made our position clear to all parties: The United States strongly opposes the European Union's lifting its embargo on arms exports to China. We believe that lifting the embargo would be detrimental to peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region. We think it would send the wrong signal, given continued, serious human rights abuses taking place in China itself. That is why we have maintained our own embargo on China since the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacres, and why we will continue to urge the European Union to maintain its embargo.

One of the central issues in this discussion is security in the Asia-Pacific region, where the United States has served as the guarantor of peace and stability since the close of the Second World War. Maintaining that stability is in the clear and vital interest of both the United States and of Europe.

Today we see China continuing a military buildup which is viewed as threatening by its democratic neighbors. We believe that the E.U.'s lifting of the embargo would negatively effect regional stability as well as American security interests.  As we stated in our September 2002 National Security Strategy report, "while U.S.-China relations are an important part of our strategy to promote a stable, peaceful and prosperous region there are, however, areas in which we have profound disagreements. Our commitment to the self-defense of Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations Act is one."

Our commitments on Taiwan are an area of particular concern when we consider the European Union arms embargo. Simply put, we do not believe cross-Strait relations would improve if China gains access to advanced weaponry. We are also concerned about protecting key U.S. military technologies that we share with the European allies should the E.U. lift the embargo. Likewise we're concerned about China's record of proliferating weapons to Iran, to Sudan, to Burma and other states of concern.

President Bush was in Brussels in February, as the Chairman noted. He was meeting with European Union member states and with NATO. He said "there is a deep concern in our country that a transfer of weapons would be a transfer of technology to China, which would change the balance of relations between China and Taiwan."  Lifting the embargo now could also be seen as an endorsement of China's recent anti-secession legislation, which codifies in law the use of nonpeaceful means, under certain circumstances, to prevent Taiwan's independence.

While our opposition to the E.U. lifting its embargo is firm, it should also be seen in the context of our overall relationship with China.  During his visit to Beijing in 2002, the president stated that "China is on a rising path and America welcomes the emergence of a strong, peaceful and prosperous China."  Secretary of State Rice reaffirmed that view recently in Tokyo, when she said that "we want China as a global partner, able and willing to match its growing capabilities to its international responsibilities."

Economic liberalization and increased trade have opened a place for China in the international community, and we strongly support China's integration into that rules-based community -- not just economic institutions, but diplomatic, peacekeeping, relief and reconstruction ones as well. China is also playing a vital role in hosting the six-party talks on the North Korean nuclear issue, and we need China to remain engaged there to bring pressure to bear on the North Koreans to return to those talks, where they have been absent for nearly a year.

Finally, I would note that the United States has a flourishing commercial relationship with China despite the fact that we maintain a strict embargo on military sales to China. This, in itself, is an important fact for our European allies to appreciate.

As our relationship with China develops, however, we remain concerned by its human rights record. The United States and the European Union embargoes were imposed in response to the Tiananmen massacre in 1989. Our government has stated repeatedly that we view these two embargoes of the United States and of Europe as complementary, and that the underlying reason for their imposition remains valid.

As the State Department said in 2004 in our Human Rights Report, the human rights record of the Chinese government remains poor and serious abuses are continuing.  According to estimates by nongovernmental organizations, hundreds of persons remain in prison as a result of the Tiananmen demonstrations.  Thus we remain very concerned about ongoing suppression of fundamental liberties such as freedom of expression, religious practice and press, and judicial abuses such as arbitrary detention and torture.

Given these concerns -- security, proliferation and human rights -- we have made our case vigorously to the European Union member states that they should not lift their arms embargo on China.  In my judgment, there were inadequate senior-level consultations with us by the European countries before they embarked down this path in early 2004. But we quickly moved to engage the Europeans, and President Bush, Secretary of State Rice, former Secretary Powell and Secretary Rumsfeld have all raised this issue in abundantly clear terms with their European counterparts.

During her first visit to Brussels just two months ago, Secretary Rice raised this issue with the NATO allies. She said we have to worry about the military balance in the region and we have concerns about technology transfer.  We have conducted joint State Department-Defense Department talks in 12 E.U. capitals to ensure they understand our concerns. We have made intelligence-based presentations to all the E.U. member states in Brussels.

I would like to thank Chairman Hyde and Chairman Hunter. I'd like to thank the Congress for your resolutions that you have passed opposing a lifting of the arms embargo.   I can assure you from my many discussions with European governments that Congress' voice has been heard. This has been a powerful and compelling argument with the European Union.  We especially appreciate the strong bipartisan support for the policy by the members of both of the committees present today.

At every opportunity, we've given European governments a strong and consistent message that lifting the embargo would be a direct challenge to vital U.S. interests, and that doing so would undermine efforts to bring China's human rights practices into compliance with international standards. We've also received valuable support on this issue from the government of Japan, which shares our concerns about the consequences of a lift.

One of the European responses to our arguments has been that it would substitute for the embargo a package of transparency measures, including improvements to the E.U.'s code of conduct on arms transfers. Our response is that there is no enforcement mechanism or objective measurement to ensure that a code of conduct would serve as a restraint. We welcome improvements in the code of conduct, but the fundamental nature of the code would not change.  In 2003, E.U. governments applying the code of conduct approved defense exports to China worth 416 million euros.  In our view, changing the code is not the answer, maintaining and strengthening the embargo is the answer.

I believe our efforts -- those of the Congress and those of the administration -- are beginning to have a positive impact. When the E.U. began considering lifting the embargo, most European commentators believed that a lift was inevitable and would be concluded by summer of 2004. Instead, we made U.S. security and human rights concerns known to all the E.U. member states, and the E.U. has now taken the time to consider the larger implications of lifting the embargo.  We do not now believe that the E.U. is close to a decision to lift the embargo itself. But we realize that we must keep this issue at the forefront of our agenda with the E.U. in Brussels and with all the E.U. governments, and we intend to do just that.

The question remains, in our minds, why some in the European Union still support lifting the embargo, faced with the arguments put forward by the United States Government, by the Congress and by Japan and others. Some E.U. states were supportive because they hoped this would result in improved access to the Chinese commercial market, whether or not they actually increased military sales to China.

Other E.U. governments have not been openly supportive of lifting the embargo but have not actively opposed it inside the E.U. council itself. These states have said that they have not sold military items to China in the past and have no intention of doing so, even without an embargo, in the future. Many of these states share our serious concerns about China's human rights record. Originally, the lift was presented to us as a political gesture, a part of the E.U.'s agreed policy of building a better relationship with China. In fact, some member states have argued that lifting the embargo would not affect their policy of denying defense articles to China.

We believe the E.U. has not made a compelling case for why the embargo should be lifted, and our government is united in the belief that there are compelling national security reasons for maintaining the embargo. After all, we and the E.U. have a shared interest in maintaining regional peace and security in Asia and the Pacific, and in promoting human rights in China. And so our view is that the E.U. should seek to align itself to this mutual interest, strengthen our export control regimes, so that we can limit sales to China that put those interests at risk.

What is now abundantly clear is that there is an urgent need to undertake a strategic dialogue with the European Union on this issue. And we will soon begin -- in fact next week -- a dialogue with the European Union where we will describe our interests in the United States of America as the guarantor of peace and security in Asia and the Pacific region and the Straits of Taiwan itself. And that strategic dialogue is long overdue. The E.U. has agreed to have it, and we think it might assist in resolving this dispute.

This will not be a negotiation over the terms for lifting the embargo, but it will be a means of ensuring, among other goals, that the E.U. members understand the real dangers to regional security that lifting the embargo would pose. It is also an opportunity to discuss ways that we can strengthen and harmonize with European export control regimes so that they track more closely with United States controls.

We will include in these discussions with the E.U. our concerns about current E.U. sales of military equipment to China. Several items that have been approved for sale -- including fire control radar, aircraft engines, submarine technology and maritime search radar -- seem inconsistent with the E.U.'s code of conduct on military sales.

According to 2003 E.U. data, E.U. members approved 159 licenses for exports to China of items on the common military list. These items were worth almost double the value of the licenses from 2002.  The fact that approvals of licenses for defense exports to China greatly outnumber denials adds to our concern that the E.U. needs to strengthen its existing regime.

Of course, we will also encourage the E.U. to strengthen its human rights dialogue with China. China continues to hold hundreds of Tiananmen-era political prisoners. It continues to restrict fundamental liberties, including freedoms of expression and religious practice. The circumstances that led to the imposition of the embargo some 16 years ago need to be honestly addressed by the Chinese government.

So, Chairman Hyde, Chairman Hunter, in conclusion, I'd like to underscore that the careful consideration being given to the implications of a lift is a significant milestone for the European Union itself.  Taking U.S. concerns into account before making a decision would be a direct affirmation of what President Bush asked for when he went to Brussels in February, and that is a “new era in trans-Atlantic relations.”  It is our strong hope that the European Union will choose this path.

We welcome the E.U. as an equal partner in promoting our shared values and the security of democratic nations around the world. Our common agenda should include engaging China to develop our shared security, economic and political goals in the Asia-Pacific region.  Working with our allies in Japan and Europe, we believe there are means other than selling advanced weaponry to achieve those goals.

Thank you very much.

Released on April 25, 2005

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