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EU controls on dual-use tech exports too tight

By Fu Jing | China Daily Europe | Updated: 2015-06-14 09:41

Beijing is unhappy with Europe's failure to ease tech exports that can be put to civilian or military use

Brussels has recently entrusted a think tank with seeking out concrete recommendations on how to develop dual-use technologies to positively affect Europe's economy and competitiveness. I was asked to give some points from a Chinese journalist's perspective.

Due to my limited knowledge of Europe's dual-use technologies, both in civil and military use, I'm not in a position to give policy recommendations on their development. Yet in terms of the EU-China relationship, I will say that Brussels should further ease its controls on exports of such technologies to China, which would certainly boost Europe's competitiveness.

Compared with the United States, the European Union has long been a major source of high-tech applications for China, which has allowed the EU to benefit from expanded market access.

But Beijing is not satisfied, as the control exerted by Brussels on such exports is still tight, while Washington's control is even stricter toward China, all in the name of national security.

This control is one of the major downsides of the Beijing-Brussels relationship, which was established 40 years ago.

Brussels followed Washington in 1989 by introducing economic sanctions against China, and it still refuses to lift its arms embargo despite the normalization of diplomatic relations in 1992. To make matters worse, some European countries have exported arms to Taiwan, ignoring Beijing's objections.

When China's top leaders have met with their European counterparts, they have repeatedly asked them to relax controls on high-tech exports, which Beijing has voiced its thoughts on even louder than in its requests for the arms embargo to be lifted.

With leaders of both sides expected to hold a summit at the end of this month, it is highly likely Beijing will, once again, put pressure on Brussels to lift controls on exports of dual-use products.

From a journalistic point of view, I have a number of observations on the European Commission's approach. First, the EC has closely linked its controls with its leverage capacity in international politics and efforts to manage the bilateral relationship.

The EU also seeks to use political and diplomatic means as a component of its power on the global stage; allowing arms sales to Taiwan, for example. Such a move can only damage the global reputation of an organization claiming its driving force is to safeguard world peace.

Treating China in this way simply does not reflect the strategic partnership Brussels and Beijing have built over four decades. Brussels needs to bring its controls on dual-use exports in line with bilateral agreements and international regulations.

China's decision to shift part of its military production capacity into civil use offers an example for Brussels on restructuring dual-use manufacturing industries. Since normalizing relations with Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Beijing has greatly reduced its military capacity and transferred several factories to the civil sector under modern corporate governance. Some are even listed on stock exchanges.

As Beijing and Brussels are both major forces for global peace, they should share their experiences in this field and let production capacities improve living standards for people in Europe and China.

Yes, it's true that some dual-use products are dangerous in proliferation and can cause mass destruction in the hands of those who want to bring chaos to the world. So controls on exports and production need serious consideration.

However, my message to the EU policymakers on dual-use technologies is crystal clear: Please don't use industry policy as leverage in a bilateral political relationship.

Times are changing fast. At a recent seminar in Brussels, China observers had a warning for Brussels, saying China had already gained the upper hand in some sectors; for example, Chinese businesses in the ICT sector can invest financially and technically in Europe.

This is new trend. If Europe does not want to wake up to this reality and transfer its key technologies, some important findings may be shelved in laboratories forever, without any possibility of gaining market access.

The author is China Daily chief correspondent in Brussels. Contact the writer at


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