Agence France Press

Taiwan raps EU over plan to lift China arms ban

Tuesday March 01, 2005

BRUSSELS, (AFP) - Taiwan's president warned that EU plans to lift an arms embargo on China threaten the military balance in East Asia -- and accused some in Europe of double standards in currying favour with Beijing.

President Chen Shui-bian, in a video conference with European Union (EU) lawmakers, notably singled out France, which has spearheaded the bloc's drive to end the 15-year-old ban on weapons sales to Beijing.

He added that the planned lifting in the next few months of the arms ban, slapped on Beijing after the 1989 Tienanmen Square massacre, could also let Beijing think it did not need to proceed with democratic reforms.

"Should the EU decide to lift its arms embargo against China it might lead to a tilt in the military balance in the Taiwan Strait which would pose a clear threat to peace and stability," he said.

He noted that China has over 700 ballistic missiles aimed from the mainland at Taiwan. Beijing considers Taiwan part of its territory awaiting reunification despite their split in 1949 at the end of a civil war.

The EU imposed the embargo on Beijing after the Tienanmen crackdown that left hundreds, if not thousands, of unarmed citizens and protesters dead on the streets of the Chinese capital.

But it appears set to lift the ban in the next few months -- in all likelihood before June -- while putting in place a self-imposed code of conduct on arms sales to China.

The EU wants to lift the embargo with an eye firmly on the booming Chinese economy, as China continues moves to open up to the West which have already seen it join the World Trade Organisation.

The move has been vocally opposed by rights groups as well as the United States which fears that advanced weapons sales to China could eventually be used in any future attempt by Beijing to reunify a democratic Taiwan.

US President George W. Bush expressed serious concern about the planned EU move when he visited Brussels last week. Washington is worried it would give China access to hi-tech military know-how and firepower that would threaten Taiwan, which Beijing regards as part of its territory, and shift the strategic balance in East Asia.

Chen, asked about France's role in the expected lifting of the ban, said he was reluctant to criticise any particular government. But he said: "We must say that we are saddened to learn that some countries have adopted double standards to the universal values of human rights, democracy, freedom and peace."

In particular he recalled France's opposition to a Taiwan referendum last year on its relations with Beijing. "In the future before others criticise Taiwan they should really try to understand what is truly going on," he said. "They can't just issue strong criticism because they have vested interests in China and they have decided to embrace China for personal gains or political gains.

The Taiwanese leader welcomed opposition to the EU plans from both the US and Japan. "The United States and Japan are right on the Pacific rim, that's why they that are concerned. Europe should be more concerned and pay more attention to such a threat," he said.

Earlier Tuesday, Human Rights in China urged the bloc not to lift its arms embargo on China until Beijing reassesses the 1989 democracy protests and compensates the families of those killed.