Brazen China
Saturday, March 12, 2005; Page A18

PERHAPS CHINA'S Communist leadership was worried that the world would get the wrong idea from the recent flurry of conciliatory gestures and concessions it has exchanged with the government of Taiwan -- steps that have suggested the possibility of a civilized and peaceful rapprochement between the neighbors. In any case, President Hu Jintao has now made clear that Beijing's policy of openly threatening Taiwan with a war of aggression remains intact. The centerpiece of this month's meeting of the rubber-stamp National People's Congress is "anti-secession" legislation that legally binds China to attack the island -- a move that likely would mean a military conflict with the United States -- if it fails to meet China's political demands. Chief among these is that Taiwan's democratically elected president, Chen Shui-bian, drop one of the central planks of his platform, which is reform of Taiwan's constitution.

Mr. Chen hasn't taken any steps toward the constitutional reform, which in any case would be largely cosmetic. Since suffering defeat in a legislative election in December, he has been reaching out to China; he even struck a deal with a pro-Beijing opposition leader in which he pledged to work to relax investment and transport restrictions and reiterated promises not to seek independence for Taiwan. Mr. Hu's answer is to mandate, by law, that peaceful democratic political activity on Taiwan trigger invasion by China. This extraordinary bellicosity is backed up by deeds: Last week Beijing announced a 12 percent increase in its defense budget, continuing years of double-digit growth that have made it the largest military spender in the world after the United States. In recent years the buildup has been designed to prepare for an invasion and to repel U.S. forces that might seek to intervene. Hundreds of missiles have been deployed within range of Taiwan, and new surface ships and submarines have been purchased from Russia.

In sum, a totalitarian Chinese government has openly renewed its resolve to wage war and is working hard to acquire the means to do so. Which brings us to the European Union, which is preparing to lift its embargo on arms sales to China despite appeals and warnings of the Bush administration and Congress. France and Germany -- fierce opponents of military force when used by the United States against a vicious dictator -- remain eager to sell weapons systems to a regime that has formally committed itself to aggression against a democracy. Rather than joining with the United States to help keep the peace in Asia, they would cater to the country that promises to break it. In effect, the Europeans place their own narrow commercial interests -- which they pursue in competition with U.S. companies -- above security cooperation with their NATO ally. It is a grossly irresponsible policy.


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