Reuters News Report


Chris Patten tells EU Parliament China fails rights test

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

STRASBOURG, France - China does not meet international standards on human rights, EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten said on Tuesday, as European Union lawmakers urged the bloc not to end its arms embargo on Beijing.

France is leading calls by some EU member states to lift the embargo, which was imposed in 1989 after Beijing crushed a pro-democracy uprising in Tiananmen Square, but those calls have proved divisive across the 25-member union.

Patten told the European Parliament that the EU's executive Commission could not take the lead on the embargo, which is a matter for EU leaders. But he left no doubt he saw any cancellation of the measure as undesirable.

"While we have acknowledged that ... the political situation has moved on since Tiananmen, China's observance of some basic human rights, notably in the area of political and civil rights, continues to fall well short of international norms," he said.

"Without making any direct link, we have ... told China that lifting of the embargo would be greatly assisted if they could take concrete steps in the field of human rights," he said.

The Netherlands, current president of the EU, has been drawing up a revised code of conduct for arms sales, and Dutch Europe Minister Atzo Nicolai said this meant restrictions would apply even if the embargo were removed.

The European Parliament was overwhelmingly in favour of the code of conduct being made legally binding, but Nicolai said only around half the EU's member states favoured such a move.

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

Diplomats say another attempt to end the embargo might be made just before a Dec. 8 EU-China summit.

The EU legislature will vote on the issue on Wednesday. Its vote is not binding but, as the only directly elected body in the EU, it carries some moral weight. Nicolai noted that almost every deputy who spoke was against the lifting of the ban.

Patten, Britain's last colonial governor of Hong Kong, expressed optimism the rapid pace of economic change in China would be matched by political liberalisation.

"It's impossible for a country to open up its economy while retaining an absolutely rigid control over politics," he said.