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China Confident of Early End to EU Arms Embargo

By Benjamin Morgan
Agence France-Presse, Hanoi
Defense News, October 08, 2004

China said Oct. 8 it is confident that a 15-year-old European Union arms embargo it calls "a product of the Cold War" would soon be lifted.

The EU’s Dutch presidency, however, struck a more cautious note after the two sides held talks on the sidelines of an Asia-Europe summit here.

"We had good discussions," Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing told reporters after meeting his Dutch counterpart Bernard Bot. "We are confident that cooperation between... China and the EU, as time goes on, will be stronger and more fruitful."

The EU imposed the embargo after a 1989 government crackdown resulted in the massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

Despite booming trade ties, the issue has remained a sore point in EU-China relations.

EU foreign ministers are due to hold fresh talks on whether to lift the embargo Oct. 11, amid a push led by France and to a lesser extent Germany to resume weapons sales to China.

"The European embargo on arms sales to China is well and truly a product of the Cold War," Li told the French newspaper Le Figaro.

"It will be lifted sooner or later as doing so is necessary for the sound and harmonious development of relations between China and Europe. We hope that the EU will make the decision as soon as possible," he added.

However, Britain and Scandinavian countries back the U.S. stance that lifting the embargo would be premature, arguing it would increase regional instability and send the wrong signal about China’s human rights record.

Taiwan, which was occupied by the losing side of the Chinese Civil War in 1949, said this month that lifting the ban would serve only to let Beijing "prepare for a war in the Taiwan Strait."

China has repeatedly threatened to retake Taiwan, which it regards as a renegade province. Taiwan emphasizes it has never been part of the PRC, and that it is a free and democratic nation which deserves to be recognized by the international community.

Bot said that a final decision was unlikely to come until after an EU-China summit in the Dutch capital The Hague in early December.

The annual summit will focus on trade, economic cooperation and peaceful uses of nuclear energy, but the arms embargo will "of course" be discussed, the Dutch minister told a news conference.

"I have told my Chinese colleague that the Dutch... are putting forward our best efforts (to find consensus in the EU) but that of course we cannot guarantee the outcome, because that is a question for the 25 member states," he said.

Bot added that the debate on the arms embargo had aroused "warm interest" in EU countries, especially in the European Parliament, which is strongly against lifting the ban.

Backers of scrapping the ban say that lucrative trade opportunities with the world’s fastest-growing major economy are at stake for European business.

French President Jacques Chirac, who headed on from the Hanoi summit to a visit to China, said in an interview with China’s state news agency Xinhua that he would press for an early lifting of the embargo.

"We will try to get the EU to lift as soon as possible an embargo which is of another time and which does not correspond any more to the reality of the situation," Chirac said in the interview released Oct. 7.