EU hints to lift China arms ban in June
European Union leaders declared their "political will" to lift an arms embargo on China, possibly by next June.
The leaders said after summit talks that they were "looking forward to further progress in all areas" of the 25-nation bloc's relationship with China.
In pressing for closer ties, "the European Council (of EU leaders) reaffirmed the political will to continue to work towards lifting the arms embargo," according to written conclusions at the two-day summit.
For the first time the leaders also gave a time-frame for when that might happen, calling on the Luxembourg government to proceed towards an agreement when it holds the EU presidency from January to June next year.
They "invited the next presidency to finalise the well-advanced work in order to allow for a decision", said the text, which left open the possibility of an agreement after June.
EU countries like France and Germany -- both major arms exporters -- agree with China that the ban is "outdated".
The EU leaders' summit text also suggested that any lifting of the arms ban would be purely symbolic. The leaders "underlined that the result of any decision should not be an increase of arms exports from EU member states to China, neither in quantitative nor qualitative terms", it said.
The leaders "recalled the importance of the criteria" of a new EU code of conduct on arms exports, "in particular criteria regarding human rights, stability and security in the region and the national security of friendly and allied countries".
They also stressed the importance of the "early adoption" of the revised code of conduct and an accompanying "toolbox" of measures to regulate any arms exports to China.
On other matters, the leaders invited their governments and the EU executive "to further explore the feasibility of a new EU-China framework agreement and possible cooperation on issues such as readmission and market economy status".
Readmitting illegal immigrants back to China is one of the EU's key demands on the country, which in turn has been pushing strongly to receive EU recognition that it now qualifies as a full market economy.
The Chinese government denies that a lifting of the EU ban would open the weapons floodgates.
"Rather, it is aimed to oppose political discrimination against China," Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao told journalists at an EU-China summit in The Hague this month.