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EU commissioner: It's time to lift arms ban
Updated: 2005-02-26 01:56

Europe's top trade negotiator on Friday criticized a 15-year-old European arms embargo on China, saying it was high time to lift the ban given the rapidly developing relations between the two sides.

EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson pauses during his speech at the Univeristy of International Business and Economics in Beijing February 24, 2005. [Reuters]
European Union Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said he discussed the issue during two days of meetings with Vice Premier Wu Yi and Commerce Minister Bo Xilai.

"To treat China as some sort of pariah in maintaining this arms ban is, in the view of Europe's member states, no longer valid," Mandelson said at a press conference.

France and Germany are leading the push to end the embargo that was imposed since 1989.

While the ban "sprang directly from European reaction to the events," Mandelson said," a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then. A lot of people have moved on and in the view of many, the arms ban has simply become an anachronism."

An EU code of conduct that regulates all weapons sales to other countries forces member nations to ensure the weapons they sell are not used for internal repression, external aggression or where serious human rights violations have occurred -- a position Mandelson endorsed.

"The key question is not whether (the ban) stays or goes but what replaces it," he said. "A clear and strong code of conduct for arms sales will do the job better and better reflect the modern, material relationship between China and the European Union."

China claims the EU as its largest trading partner, with two-way trade exceeding US$150 billion (euro115 billion) in 2004.

The United States has voiced strong opposition to the lifting of the weapons embargo, saying European weapons sales to China could endanger Taiwan and US forces in Asia.

Mandelson said talks with Chinese leaders also focused on deepening strategic relations between Europe and China, forging "a new partnership for a new century."

"Such new partnership has to be comprehensive to cover political dialogue, environment, as well as trade and investment," he said.

He said the EU and China will set up joint export groups to nail down the enforcement of intellectual property rights in China, a sensitive issue in a country where counterfeit goods are freely available.

Mandelson said he also discussed the need to adopt measures that will prevent a surge of textile exports from China due to the expiration of a global quota agreement at the end of 2004.

No agreement was sought, however, because the situation hadn't been "properly assessed, he said.

In a speech to business students in Beijing on Thursday, Mandelson urged China to broaden its currency's link to the US dollar to include other major currencies.

He said the move would make it easier for the EU to justify lifting the arms ban in defiance of US opposition.

China now limits trading in the yuan to a narrow band around 8.28 yuan per dollar. Critics, including many in Europe, argue that makes Chinese exports artificially cheap, given the dollar's recent decline against other major currencies such as the euro.

China says it eventually will relax the restrictions, but only when its financial system and economy are ready.

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