Obama Administration May Lift U.S. Arms Embargo Imposed on China After Tiananmen Crackdown
(CNSNews.com) – Twenty-one years after the violent Tiananmen Square crackdown prompted a U.S. embargo on arms sales to China, Beijing is welcoming signs that the Obama administration may be preparing to ease the restrictions.
“We hope the U.S. side will continue to take measures to relax high-tech export restrictions to China,” foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu told a press briefing Tuesday, saying such a move would be in both countries’ interests.
Chinese state-run media reported this week that an end to the embargo may be in sight, after President Obama notified congressional leaders on Friday that it was in the “national interest of the United States” to lift Foreign Relations Authorization Act export restrictions relating to “C-130 cargo aircraft to be used in oil spill response operations at sea.”
“License requirements remain in place for these exports and require review and approval on a case-by-case basis by the United States Government,” Obama wrote.
China for years has been demanding that the U.S. as well as the European Union end bans on arms sales put in place after the military crushed pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing in 1989, killing untold numbers of protestors.
President George H.W. Bush announced an immediate embargo on arms sales and sanctions subsequently enacted in the Foreign Relations Authorization Act prohibit the issuing of licenses to export items to China that appear on a U.S. Munitions List.
The E.U. response came in the form of a European Council announcement three weeks after the crackdown of measures including “interruption … of military cooperation and an embargo on trade in arms with China.”
The sign of an apparent shift in Washington comes six years after the Bush administration led calls for the E.U. not to go ahead with a proposal – spearheaded by France and Germany – to lift the E.U. embargo.
The U.S. argued that China’s human rights situation remained poor, while the Pentagon was concerned about the security implications of advanced European-made weapons in Chinese hands, particularly in the event of any future conflict over Taiwan. The U.S. is committed by law to help the island democracy to defend itself against unprovoked aggression from the mainland.
Japan also expressed fears that lifting the embargo would upset the regional military balance by enabling China to buy more sophisticated weaponry that it would be able to manufacture itself or source from its primary arms supplier, Russia.
Many months of strenuous lobbying by the U.S., Japan, Taiwan human rights groups and critics in the European Parliament eventually succeeded in getting the E.U. plan put on hold in mid-2005.
Five years later, the European embargo remains in place despite repeated Chinese demands and claims that it amounts to “political prejudice” and is a hurdle to a deeper China-E.U. relationship.
Now it appears that the U.S. is the one softening its approach – in China’s interpretation, at least.
Obama’s notification to congressional leaders came on the eve of a visit by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to Hanoi, where he met with his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Liang Guanglie, on the sidelines of a meeting of Asian and Pacific Rim defense ministers.
Gates said he had accepted an invitation by Liang to visit Beijing. China froze military contacts with the U.S. last January after Washington announced a $6.4 billion arms package for Taiwan.
Relations soured further when China objected to joint U.S.-South Korean naval exercises in the Yellow Sea, and after senior U.S. officials made statements about the South China Sea which Beijing said amounted to outside interference in regional affairs. China is embroiled in multiple territorial disputes with other countries in the area.