Reuters News Report


EU fails to agree on lifting China arms embargo

Monday, October 11, 2004

By Paul Taylor

LUXEMBURG (Reuters) - The European Union failed to agree on Monday to lift an arms embargo against China despite energetic French pressure, but ministers said a stronger code of conduct on arms exports could lead to a removal of the ban.

Britain denied it was blocking a lifting of the embargo, imposed after Chinese troops crushed the Tiananmen democracy movement with many deaths in 1989. But diplomats listed it among the opponents, along with Nordic countries concerned about human rights and East European states sensitive to U.S. lobbying.

"There was no consensus. It will require further discussion," German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer told reporters after the 25 ministers discussed the China embargo.

French President Jacques Chirac, who is visiting China to boost economic and political ties, denounced the embargo on Saturday in Beijing as a "circumstantial measure which is purely and simply hostile to China" and had no justification.

"That is why France, like most EU countries, is in favour of lifting this embargo," Chirac said.

The United States has lobbied publicly and privately against a lifting of the ban, citing Chinese threats to Taiwan.

Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot, who chaired the talks, told a news conference: "It's clear that we need more time to consider the situation, but we hope to be able to indicate a positive orientation towards the lifting."

He pledged to speed up work on a general code of conduct for arms sales by EU countries and urged China to send positive signals, while stressing there was no formal linkage.

Diplomats said a removal of the embargo was unlikely before the end of the year, although another attempt might be made just before a Dec. 8 EU-China summit.


Fischer said stronger EU guidelines on what arms should or should not be exported to third countries offered a way forward, as would an improvement in China's relationships with Taiwan, Japan and the United States, and its human rights record.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw rejected suggestions that London, partly at Washington's behest, was opposing an end to the ban.

"We are not in any sense quote 'against' the lifting of the embargo. But it has got to be done in a proper and sensible way and that is the process which has been agreed by the whole of the European Union," he told reporters.

Sweden and Denmark voiced reservations, mainly on human rights grounds. Others in the reticent camp included Poland, the Czech Republic and Latvia, participants said.

Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller said China's human rights situation had improved since 1989. "But when the Chinese say that Tiananmen is over and done with... you can remind them that they still have 14 prisoners serving from Tiananmen."

The EU is reviewing its policy on the basis of three criteria -- China's human rights record, tension with Taiwan and the as yet incomplete EU code of conduct on arms exports.

(Additional reporting by Marie-Louise Moller)