U.S. warned E.U. to keep arms ban

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 September, 2011, 12:00am


US diplomatic cables made public by WikiLeaks show immense American efforts in derailing a potential end to a European arms embargo against China in 2004.

A US official made a rare explicit link between American opposition to relaxing the embargo and warfare concerns in the event of Washington fighting Beijing for Taiwan.

'If the US were some day obliged to come to the assistance of Taiwan in response to a Chinese attack, we would not want to be faced with advanced weaponry supplied by our European allies,' the official, described only as 'EAP PDAS Keyser', told two European Union counterparts, according to a 'confidential' cable sent from Brussels dated March 15, 2004.

Coincidentally, Donald Keyser, US principal deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, was arrested later that year for suspected espionage. He was sentenced to a brief jail term for keeping classified documents at home and for lying about his 'personal relationship' with a Taiwanese intelligence agent, US media reported.

The EU slapped the arms embargo on China in 1989 on human rights grounds after Beijing's bloody crackdown on Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protesters.

In recent years, China has stepped up calls to lift the ban, which it sees as the main thorn in the side of Sino-EU relations, but the bloc has yet to reach a consensus, despite expressions of support by individual European countries from time to time, including from French President Jacques Chirac in 2004.

Chirac's push might have achieved something concrete, but for immense pressure from the US- as well as China's introduction of the Anti-Secession Law in March 2005, which targeted Taiwan- according to the leaked US diplomatic cables.

In the same cable, the Dutch government's Asia director Robert Milders- the Netherlands was to hold the EU presidency later in 2004 - told Keyser that 'the arms embargo was 'the most important thing' in EU-China relations, adding that the EU recognised a year earlier that it was time to review the embargo.

Another cable from Brussels, dated April 7, 2004, and classified 'secret', described a 'heated' meeting of the EU Political and Security Committee on April 2, in which France pushed for a discussion about lifting the ban that lasted for 90 minutes. The cable noted France's position was that 'the embargo is anachronistic and must go', while Denmark, which led the opposition, said 'any decision to lift the embargo must be linked to specific Chinese steps on human rights'.

'Other EU member states are lining up somewhere in between, although 'all agree in principle' that the embargo should be lifted if certain conditions are met,' former US ambassador to the EU, Rockwell Schnabel, wrote.

The conditions under discussion included strengthening a code of conduct governing EU arms exports, which would apply to China once the embargo was lifted, whether to make the code of conduct legally binding, and linking the end of the ban to Chinese human rights concessions.

The US objection focused on China's human rights situation, and on any potential regional insecurity and imbalance between Taipei-Beijing ties. While the EU looked for a compromise to appease both the US and China, Washington made clear in the 2004/2005 cables that its position was non-negotiable - and capable of thwarting US-EU relations.

'They recognise that we will not support lifting the embargo no matter what they do, but they hope to at least reduce the risk of serious damage to transatlantic relations and defence trade,' former deputy chief at the US Mission, Michael McKinley, wrote in a 'confidential' cable from Brussels dated March 24, 2005.