BEIJING - China is unlikely to rely heavily on imported weapons, military experts say, even as the European Union (EU) is considering lifting its 21-year-old ban on arms sales to China.
The lifting of the embargo "could happen very soon", French daily Le Figaro reported on Thursday, quoting sources close to Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief.
The EU has yet to confirm the claim, but a diplomat in Brussels acknowledged that the issue was raised at the last EU summit on Dec 17, where Ashton recommended as much in a report presented in a confidential presentation, Le Figaro said.
The paper disclosed that major EU powers believed the embargo may have outlived its purpose, and thus should "assess its practical implication and design a way forward".
The arms embargo reflects obsolete Cold War thinking, and has become a major impediment to China-European political trust and cooperation, said Zhai Dequan, vice-secretary-general of the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association.
If true, "the importance of the move will be more symbolic than anything else - it would signal Europe treating China as a genuine strategic partner", Zhai said.
Europe has been rethinking its arms export ban to China for quite some time. France had appealed for the sanction to be lifted in 2004. Spain, which held the EU's rotating presidency in the first half of 2010, has also long campaigned for an end to the embargo.
Nevertheless, consensus is difficult to reach within Europe on this issue, as lifting the embargo would require unanimity across all 27 member states.
But currently the tide is seemingly turning in Europe. According to Le Figaro, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and, to an extent, Germany, had lessened their opposition.
One major reason why the EU has softened its stance, Zhai pointed out, is that it is economically stretched, and arms sales are beneficial in boosting related industries and, in doing so, creating jobs.
Even if the ban is lifted, Zhai said, there is a low likelihood China will demand much from the European market.
"Arms embargoes have failed to undermine China's military modernization. On the contrary, they have promoted self-sufficiency in military technology," Zhai said.
In a similar move, US President Barack Obama in October called on the House and the Senate to lift the ban on C-130 cargo aircraft sales to China, in an attempt to ease restrictions on the sale of cargo aircraft to Beijing.