Academic journal article Journal of East Asian Studies

Beyond the Arms Embargo: EU Transfers of Defense and Dual-Use Technologies to China

Academic journal article Journal of East Asian Studies

Beyond the Arms Embargo: EU Transfers of Defense and Dual-Use Technologies to China

Article excerpt

China has largely been cut off from direct transfers of military systems and technologies since the announcement of the EU arms embargo in 1989. Nevertheless, the EU and its member states remain a major source of high technologies for China, namely, by means of trade, investment, and scientific cooperation. This is mainly because the EU-China relationship continues to be dominated by the economic interests of individual member states, both in trade and increasingly in investments. Furthermore, due to a lack of direct security interests in the Asia-Pacific, Europeans do not generally see China as a security threat or a strategic competitor. Therefore, the EU has so far failed to develop a strategic approach toward the potential security implications of transfers of European militarily sensitive technologies that goes beyond the existing arms embargo and currently lacks effective mechanisms to control the flow of such technologies to China. Keywords: China, European Union, technology transfers, dual-use technology, arms embargo, trade controls

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ONE DECADE HAS PASSED SINCE THE PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF CHINA (PRC) and the European Union (EU) agreed to enter into a "comprehensive strategic partnership." In the early 2000s, both sides were optimistic that they could increasingly align their mutual interests and jointly tackle global challenges, including security-related issues such as regional conflicts and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Despite an ever growing number of high-level summits, sectoral dialogues, (1) forums, and cooperation agreements, the relationship remains dominated by economic and trade issues, while security interests at best play a secondary role. The EU and its member states have so far failed to develop a strategic approach toward Chinese efforts to modernize the People's Liberation Army (PLA). Beijing's continued push to develop a modern defense and dual-use science, technology, and industrial base ([D.sup.2]STI) has not led to a debate about the potential security implications of transfers of European militarily sensitive technologies to China. On the contrary: Despite frequent Chinese complaints about alleged European restrictions on technology exports, the EU remains a major source of high technology for China--also in dual-use-sensitive areas such as aerospace and information and communication technology (ICT). While the debate about the EU arms embargo has been widely covered by analysts across the Atlantic and in China, the potential security impact of the broader EU-China relationship is much less understood. In this article I will discuss why the European Union and its member states have not been able to develop a strategic approach to technology transfers to China.

In the second part of this article, I will briefly sketch the historical development of Europe's approach toward transfers of militarily relevant technology to China, from the start of the reform and opening up in 1978 to the impact of the Tiananmen incident in June 1989 and including the most recent developments. I will also include a brief recap of the debate on the EU arms embargo on China, which in the European context is not linked to hindering Chinese military modernization efforts but is still seen basically as a human rights issue. In the third part of this article I will analyze EU-China dual-use technology transfers and provide an overview of the EU export control system and some (potential) additional control mechanisms. I will also demonstrate the difficulties the EU is facing in effectively controlling dual-use technology transfers to China in an age where these transfers increasingly take place by intangible means and where an ever growing number of technologies can be categorized as "dual-use." In the fourth part I will discuss European threat perceptions of China as a security actor: China is generally not perceived as a threat to European security. This is due mainly to the geographical distance between China and Europe, as well as the lack of direct European security interests in the Asia-Pacific region. …

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