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Ending EU arms ban: the sooner the better
Updated: 2005-03-18 08:52

The European Union reassured China on Thursday that it was pressing ahead with plans to lift a 15-year-old arms embargo on Beijing.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said the EU plans remain on track, he said after talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing in Brussels.

Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing (L) addresses a joint news conference with European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana (R) after a meeting in Brussels March 17, 2005.
Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing (L) addresses a joint news conference with European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana (R) after a meeting in Brussels March 17, 2005. [Reuters]
Solana recalled that EU leaders agreed last December to work notably on beefing up an EU code of conduct, as preparation for lifting the embargo.

"We are working politically towards that end. We want that end to be a reality. We are working very hard ourselves on compromises that we have to find among ourselves," he told reporters.

"The sooner the better," Solana added.

Speaking after talks with the visiting Chinese foreign minister, his Luxembourg counterpart Jean Asselborn late Thursday stressed that the EU's current Luxembourg presidency would do "its best" to secure the lifting of the embargo.

"We will do our best, as current president, to ensure that this takes place," Asselborn told a press conference in Luxembourg. "We will put all our energy into it."

Li for his part restated Beijing's view that the lifting of the embargo was in the interest of both sides.

"We believe the lifting of the arms embargo is in the interest of peoples from countries on both sides," he noted. "We have full confidence the EU will work things out."

The EU's Luxembourg presidency has set a target of agreement on lifting the ban by the end of its term at the EU helm in June.

Solana conceded that the anti-secession law adopted by China's National People's Congress on March 14 had a political impact. But he also said there were some "positive" elements in the Chinese law, and indicated it did not fundamentally change the EU's aim of lifting the embargo.

"The atmospherics ... may have been a little more complicated with some countries or some parliaments. We'll see how things evolve. But the political will continues to be .. to keep on working on achieving that aim."

Those demanding an end to the arms ban -- a group of EU states spearheaded by French President Jacques Chirac -- argue that the EU ban is outdated given the political changes of the last decade and a half.

Critics allege that those pushing for the ban to be lifted are appeasing China in the hope of securing trade and political benefits from the emerging global economic titan.

The United States has made it clear it opposed ending the EU ban, warning it could help upset the military balance between the Chinese mainland and Taiwan, and members of the US Congress have even warned of trade reprisals if the EU goes ahead.

Responding to the US concerns, the EU sent a delegation to Washington this week -- and Solana said Thursday progress had been made in clearing up "misunderstandings."

Solana added that he plans to travel to Washington at the end of March to personally explain the EU plans.

The Chinese minister, holding a day of talks with EU officials in Brussels and Luxembourg, said he believed the EU had enough "political wisdom" to end the embargo, which he said was "irrational" and discriminatory.

"I believe that the EU, as a very important group of countries, will have enough political wisdom and political courage to lift as quickly as possible this measure," he said after talks at the Belgian parliament.

Solana declined to forecast when the ban will be lifted, or if it still can be by June.

"We are working as fast as we can. But I cannot guarantee you (when it will be lifted). But it will be," he said.

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