EU official calls China embargo 'unfair'
BRUSSELS, Belgium - Maintaining the European Union's 15-year arms embargo against China is "unfair," and European leaders are leaning toward lifting it, the bloc's foreign policy chief said Wednesday.
Javier Solana told reporters at an EU summit that the 25-nation bloc was still assessing the issue but was moving toward "a political decision to end a situation that we think is unfair to maintain sanctions against China so many years."
Solana said there had been "no change" among EU nations in their will to have the embargo lifted after China passed the anti-secession law. The only concerns remained under what conditions, he said.
EU officials had worked toward having it lifted by June. However, Solana said it was unclear whether that deadline would be met.
The EU's code of conduct, meant to strictly regulate arms sales, still has to be completed before a decision can be made on lifting the embargo on China. The code is expected to bar sales of weaponry or related technology to countries in armed conflicts with others.
Solana said the EU leaders shared U.S. concerns over China's human rights record, but he added that the record was no reason to keep an arms embargo in place.
"Things are moving. They are not moving at the speed we like it to but that is not justified to maintain a situation that comes from a time back," he said.
Europe has long been divided over lifting the ban. France and Germany have called it a Cold War relic that holds back trade opportunities with China's booming economy.
Chirac, in an interview published in Wednesday's editions of the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun, said lifting the embargo was aimed at improving relations with the Asian economic giant, not selling weapons.
"The Europeans have no intention of engaging in an armaments exportation policy toward China," Chirac was quoted as saying. "What the Europeans want is to normalize their relations with China."
Britain, Sweden and other European nations have been more reticent, citing continued human rights and Taiwan issue.
The United States has lobbied strongly for the ban to stay, saying European weapons could destabilize east Asia and threaten U.S. forces in the Pacific.
Other European officials have said lifting the embargo could be delayed
because of a failure to get agreement within the bloc for a series of safeguards
to prevent a sudden, destabilizing flood of European weapons or the export of
The European Union, keen to boost trade and diplomatic ties with China, agreed last year to aim to lift by the end of June the ban.
"Nothing has changed, and nothing has changed in my position," German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder told reporters after an EU summit.
Schroeder denied a German report he had discussed the ban with British Prime Minister Tony Blair on the sidelines of the summit. "Neither he nor I wanted that (a discussion)," he said.
France in particular sees boosting trade and diplomatic ties with China as a way of counter-balancing U.S. world power. Along with Paris, Berlin has been a strong backer of ending the ban.
In comments released on Tuesday, President Jacques Chirac insisted the lifting would not lead to more arms exports, which are subject to a variety of other national and EU restrictions.
"The Europeans have no intention of launching a policy of arms exports to China, which is not asking for this," he told the Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun. "What the Europeans want to do is normalize relations with China."
The EU insists arms exports will in any case be more tightly regulated by a
revised "code of conduct" to be agreed soon.
The Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao Tuesday urged the EU to make the decision to lift the embargo on arms sales to China as soon as possible.
"The arms embargo is political discrimination and is outdated," said Liu.
He said the decision would also create good conditions for the development of friendly and co-operative relations between the two parties.
It has been reported that the EU planned to lift the ban by the end of June, but is likely to delay the plan after some people trying to link it to China's passing of the Anti-Secession Law this month.
"There is no connection between China pushing the EU to lift the arms embargo and China passing the Anti-Secession Law," Liu added.
He said it is unreasonable to link the two matters.
The Anti-Secession Law was aimed at containing Taiwan secessionist forces and at peaceful reunification, while lifting the ban would eliminate political discrimination, he said.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has said lifting the arms embargo has become more difficult since the passing of the Anti-Secession Law.
There are reports about the United States putting pressure on the EU. The United States claims lifting the ban might alter the military balance in the region. But China has repeatedly stressed that the lifting will neither break a strategic balance nor will it lead to China's rush to purchase arms.