Agence France Press

Jack Straw: No timetable to end EU-China arms ban

Sunday January 23, 2005

BEIJING, (AFP) - British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Friday he cannot predict when a much-debated European arms embargo against China will be lifted, but reiterated it should not lead to more weapons sales.

"I can't predict exactly when a decision will finally be made about this. It depends on 25 member states," Straw told reporters at a joint press conference with Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing.

Asked whether Britain will help China during Luxembourg's current tenure of the rotating presidency of the EU, Straw simply reiterated the European Council's position that any lifting of the ban should not lead to increased weapons sales.

"The European Council, and I quote, the European Council recalled in December the result of any decisions should not be an increase in arms sales and exports from EU member states to China either in quantitive or qualitative terms," Straw said.

He added: "No conclusion has yet to be arrived at and it remains to be seen whether one will be arrived at during this presidency."

Luxembourg's presidency in the EU ends in June. Straw emphasised a code of conduct should be followed by China before an end to the embargo is realised.

"And in this regard the European Council recalled the importance of the criteria of the code of conduct on arms exports, in particular regarding human rights, stability and security in the region, and the national security of friendly and allied countries," Straw said.

Straw arrived in China Thursday and is scheduled to leave Friday after meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. The arms embargo was expected to top the agenda.

The British minister said prior to leaving for his Asia trip that also included Japan that the European Union would have to work to ease tensions with the United States over the possible lifting of the embargo.

The move is opposed by Washington, but Straw said in an interview Wednesday with the Financial Times that EU and US officials would have to "manage those differences" in the next few months.

Straw Friday said there has been no change in Britain's position over the past 18 months.

"We've been completely consistent. This position which we adopt now is completely consistent with the position which we adopted in December 2003," he said.

The arms embargo has been in place since the Tiananmen massacre of students and workers in 1989. China maintains it is outdated and does not conform to present China-EU relations.

Beijing is also pushing Britain to grant it full market economic status, which will facilitate China's already robust exports.

Straw told an audience after delivering a speech at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Friday that Britain is a "strong supporter" of China's case to achieve market economy status, but did not elaborate.

Straw Friday also signed an agreement with a Chinese tourism official which will allow Chinese citizens to visit Britain in tour groups. They currently must apply for business or special visas. Travel agencies are responsible for ensuring Chinese tourists return to China.

Despite the brevity of his visit, Straw, who is a lawyer by background, met with a group of young Chinese lawyers at a teahouse in Beijing's popular Houhai bar and cafe district, an embassy official told AFP.

Details of what was discussed were not available.