Financial Times

EU move on China embargo faces delay

By Daniel Dombey in Brussels
Published: March 17 2005

The European Union is maintaining its push to lift its arms embargo on China, but cannot guarantee that it will make a decision on schedule in the first half of this year, Javier Solana, EU foreign policy chief, said on Thursday.

Mr Solana's comments come in the wake of a new Chinese “anti-secession” law that is widely seen as stepping up Beijing's military threat to Taiwan. This week a EU delegation to Washington also heard a wide range of concerns about the embargo from US officials.

Li Zhaoxing, Chinese foreign minister, said he believed the EU would lift the embargo soon, following a series of meetings in Brussels with Mr Solana and the European Commission. “I think the EU, as a very important group of countries, will have enough political wisdom and courage to lift as quickly as possible this measure which is irrational and constitutes political discrimination towards China,” he said.

The US says that lifting the embargo could make it easier for China to invade Taiwan and sends the wrong signal over human rights. The embargo was imposed in 1989 after the Tiananmen Square crackdown. “The atmospherics at a given moment may have got a little more complicated with some countries or parliaments,” said Mr Solana. But he stressed that the EU saw the embargo and the anti-secession law as two separate issues.

“The political will [to lift the embargo] remains . . . but I cannot guarantee [the timing],” he said.

At a summit last December, EU leaders called for the bloc “to finalise the well-advanced work [on the embargo] to allow for a decision” before July.

But Mr Solana's comments on Thursday appeared to acknowledge the difficulties that have arisen since then.

On Thursday, he received a report from the EU delegation to Washington, which is thought to deal with many US officials' concerns about the timing of the EU move and US calls for a delay.

A new beefed up EU code of conduct on arms sales abroad a formal condition for lifting the embargo is unlikely to be approved for up to two months, even though it was virtually ready by the end of last year.

China has also yet to ratify the United Nation's International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a human rights move the EU called for last December.