Dr Helen Szamuely
The weekly European Voice describes itself as "an independent view of the EU" without specifying who it is independent of. It is certainly not independent enough to suggest that there might be something slightly wrong with the EU and the whole concept of European integration. Its edition of the 15th - 21st April led with the story that after tortuous negotiations the EU was, after all, not going to lift the arms embargo on China, despite Chinese arguments that it has put into place far-reaching reforms and has become one of the world's strongest economic powers.
As to the second, it is actually unclear how much truth there is to it, since little genuine information comes out of the vast Chinese hinterland. As to the former, noticeably few of those reforms had to do with human rights, a subject supposedly dear to the heart of the European Union foreign ministers. (Remember ethical foreign policy?) The main proponents in Europe for the lifting of the embargo are France and Germany, the main opponents, on human rights grounds, are Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands, with surprisingly strong support from the UK. And there is pressure from the United States, whose officials have pointed out that the EU's 1998 code of conduct, which would, according to opponents of the embargo guarantee that the weapons sold to China would not be used against Taiwan of the people of China itself, is not binding on anybody.
There is some evidence that France has been, if not breaking the embargo, then circumventing it in various ways
The French are very anxious to have the embargo lifted. Their arms producers are salivating at the thought of that huge market - China has embarked on an enormous military modernization and is one of the few countries in the world to have increased its spending on arms. In fact, there is some evidence that France has been, if not breaking the embargo, then circumventing it in various ways. A few days ago France and China staged joint naval exercises in Quingdao. It has been obvious for some time that the modernization of the Chinese navy is being carried out with a great deal of French help. Many of the weapons and tools of communication on the ships are French made. A recent Pentagon report to Congress on Chinese military modernization concluded that France is assisting the PLAN (People's Liberation Army-Navy) build its advanced submarines. What the French would like is to be able to do all this much more openly with EU support. And those wretched human rights people as well as the supporters of the strongly developing democracy in Taiwan spoil it all.
France and China staged joint naval exercises
But the main "villains", as usual, are the Americans, who do not think that, given the lack of any sign of Chinese good intentions either towards human rights in their own country or Taiwan (or, for that matter, the West in general) the Europeans should not be selling them arms. This is where the European Voice headline becomes so interesting. It reads: EU ready to cave in to US over weapons sales to China. All that stuff about democracy and human rights pales when the EU and its "independent" commentators contemplate the real enemy: the United States. Whatever they, our strongest and most constant ally for many years want, is wrong, even though they are supporting those very concepts of human rights and democracy and giving in to them is a sign of deplorable weakness. Better deal with oppressive tyrannies like China.