EU looks set to continue arms embargo on China

Tuesday, March 22, 2005 The EU is likely to delay the end of its arms embargo on China until next year, European diplomats said. The delay is a response to legislation passed in China earlier this month, authorising the use of military force against Taiwan if it attempts to officially secede from the mainland.

The EU came under intense pressure from the United States to not lift the embargo imposed after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, when the Chinese government suppressed pro-democracy demonstrators. The US Congress threatened that it would retaliate against the EU if it lifted the arms embargo, by blocking the approval of technology transfer licenses.

The EU has made clear the delay is only temporary, and their commitment from last December to lift the embargo still stood.

European Commission spokeswoman Emma Udwin added, "The timescale is completely open, no deadline. [The] Luxembourg presidency said in January that they wanted to lift the embargo within their presidency, but there is no obligation to do that."

China responded to the continued arms embargo and defended the Taiwan anti-secession law.

China defended its anti-secession law and responded to the ban by saying, "The EU ban on arms sales to China is political discrimination against China and out of keeping with the times," Liu Jianchao, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman told a news conference.

"We hope the EU will make the political decision to lift the ban as soon as possible," Liu continued. "It's unreasonable to link China pushing the EU to lift the arms embargo and China passing the anti-secession law," he said.

On Sunday, British foreign secretary Jack Straw in a British television interview commented that lifting the arms embargo was "more difficult rather than less difficult," and that China's anti-secession law towards Taiwan created "a difficult political environment."

However, diplomats have told Le Monde that the UK was lobbying for a push-back of the decision to 2006, particularly among various EU countries more focuses on human rights issues.

The UK continues to support ending the embargo in principle, and Prime Minister Blair has envisioned a successful decision by the summer. While Britain is sensitive to American pressure, it nonetheless wants to assure a positive road leading up to its assuming of EU presidency duties on July 1.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice characterized Mr. Straw's remarks as "sobering comments" during her stay in Beijing on Monday.

"After all, it is American forces here in the Pacific that have played the role of security guarantor," she said.