Wednesday, October 13, 2004

European Union disagrees on the lifting of China weapons ban

The European Union failed to agree on Monday to lift
an arms embargo against China despite energetic French
pressure, but European foreign 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 15 years ago. But diplomats listed it
among the opponents, along with Nordic countries
concerned about human rights and some east European
states sensitive to fierce 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 was 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
favor of lifting this embargo," Chirac said.

The United States has lobbied publicly and privately
against a lifting of the ban.

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 toward
the lifting."

He pledged to speed up work on a general code of
conduct for arms sales by EU countries.

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

Fischer said stronger EU guidelines on what arms
should or should not be exported to third countries
offered a way forward.

Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw
rejected suggestions that London, at Washington's
behest, was opposing an end to the China 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 on the arms
lifting. Others in the reticent camp included Poland,
the Czech Republic and Latvia, participants said.

The EU is reviewing its policy on the basis of three
criteria. China's human rights record, tension with
the Taiwan island authorities, and the EU code of
conduct on arms exports, which is yet to be worked

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