Selling arms to China: profits before principles
By Joe Volk
Global Beat Syndicate
WASHINGTON--The failure by President George Bush, and earlier by his new secretary of state, Condeleeza Rice to convince the Europeans that selling weapons to China would send the wrong message on human rights and endanger regional stability is a major setback for human rights supporters around the world. Following both their trips and their talks with European leaders, all indications are that European leaders still think selling arms to China is a good idea.
Europeans would be right to accuse the United States of a double standard on this issue. While Secretary Rice and President Bush have called for a ban on new arms sales to China, the Bush administration proposes to ship hundreds of millions of dollars worth of weapons to Pakistan and other countries that routinely violate the fundamental human rights of their citizens. In reality, arms sales should be barred to China and Pakistan.
The United States and the EU imposed an embargo on arms sales to China in response to the murder of peaceful protestors in Tiananmen Square in 1989. European leaders now argue that the embargo has outlived its usefulness. While it is true that China has made significant improvements with respect to human rights over the past fifteen years, abuses remain. The death of deposed Communist Party leader Zhao Ziyang last month is a poignant reminder of Beijing's failure to hold government leaders accountable for the massacre in 1989. Zhao pressed for sweeping reforms while in office and when the Tiananmen demonstrations began he went out into the square to talk to the protestors. He was never seen in public again.
Zhao became a hero for reform-minded Chinese. But when he died last month, 2,000 Tiananmen protestors remained in prison. The Chinese government should not be rewarded with new arms sales for its suppression of free speech and failure to address past suppression.
The EU's decision to lift the arms embargo on China is all about money and profits--has nothing to do with human rights. European defense spending has been essentially flat in past few years. To make the substantial profits made by their U.S. counterparts, European defense companies must focus on exports; they do not want to be locked out of the potentially lucrative Chinese market.
The Bush administration should be commended for standing firm on the embargo. Profits for arms contractors should never trump human rights considerations. Selling arms to China clearly conflicts with the administration's goals of promoting liberty and human rights throughout the world. The best way to promote democracy in China is by engaging that country through trade and investment; but selling weapons is not the same as selling toasters. The cause of democracy will be served by aiding the Chinese people, not by modernizing the weapons of a repressive Chinese military.
Yet as the Bush administration rightfully laments the EU obstinacy, it turns a blind eye to the human rights abuses committed by countries it is arming. The administrations annual budget request to congress released earlier this month includes $300 million in free arms for Pakistan. While Secretary Rice was asking the EU to forgo profits to EU arms contractors from sales to China, the Bush administration was preparing to line the coffers of U.S. arms contractors with tax-payer dollars.
If the Congress approves this request, U.S. tax dollars will put guns in the hands of a military ruler whose government routinely commits grave human rights abuses: extrajudicial killings, the use of lethal force to disperse demonstrations, and the arrest of journalists under sedition charges, to name a few.
If selling weapons to China sends the wrong message on human rights, then a $300 million arms give away to Pakistan will do the same. Both the EU and the Bush administration must begin to realize that no country should indirectly take part in human rights abuse by supplying the tools of war and suppression. Whether it is the EU selling arms to China or the U.S. giving arms to Pakistan, it is bad policy.