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EU fails to agree on lifting China arms ban
Updated: 2004-10-12 15:14

The European Union failed to agree on Monday to lift an arms embargo against China despite energetic French pressure, but European foreign ministers said a stronger code of conduct on arms exports could lead to a removal of the ban.

Britain denied it was blocking a lifting of the embargo, imposed 15 years ago. But diplomats listed it among the opponents, along with Nordic countries concerned about human rights and some east European states sensitive to fierce U.S. lobbying.

"There was no consensus. It will require further discussion," German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer told reporters after the 25 ministers discussed the China embargo.

French President Jacques Chirac, who is visiting China to boost economic and political ties, denounced the embargo on Saturday in Beijing as a "circumstantial measure which is purely and simply hostile to China" and had no justification.

"That is why France, like most EU countries, is in favor of lifting this embargo," Chirac said.

The United States has lobbied publicly and privately against a lifting of the ban.

Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot, who chaired the talks, told a news conference: "It's clear that we need more time to consider the situation, but we hope to be able to indicate a positive orientation toward the lifting."

He pledged to speed up work on a general code of conduct for arms sales by EU countries.

Diplomats said a removal of the embargo was unlikely before the end of the year, although another attempt might be made just before a December 8 EU-China summit.

Fischer said stronger EU guidelines on what arms should or should not be exported to third countries offered a way forward.

Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw rejected suggestions that London, at Washington's behest, was opposing an end to the China ban.

"We are not in any sense quote 'against' the lifting of the embargo. But it has got to be done in a proper and sensible way and that is the process which has been agreed by the whole of the European Union," he told reporters.

Sweden and Denmark voiced reservations on the arms lifting. Others in the reticent camp included Poland, the Czech Republic and Latvia, participants said.

The EU is reviewing its policy on the basis of three criteria -- China's human rights record, tension with the Taiwan island authorities, and the EU code of conduct on arms exports, which is yet to be worked out.

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