A top European Union official says the 25-nation block is unlikely to lift its 15-year ban on weapons sales to China soon. There have been divisions within the EU over the issue and the United States has warned ending the ban could put hi-tech weapons in the hands of Beijing, destabilizing the military balance of power in Asia.
At a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg, which holds the rotating EU presidency, European external relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said the time is not right for lifting the embargo. "For the moment, I must say, I see that it is hard to imagine that there is an early lifting," she said.
Last year, the EU gave Luxembourg a mandate to lift the embargo by the end of its presidency in June. But many conditions were attached, according to Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, such as the improvement of the human rights situation in China.
"The European Council also stated that it expected relations between the EU and China to make further progress in all areas. I repeat, all areas. In particular reference was made to ratifying the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights… I need hardly tell you that a decision on lifting an embargo is not taken in a vacuum," he said.
The issue has created divisions within the 25-nation EU. France has been pushing for an end to the ban, but other nations, including Britain, the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden want the embargo retained for now. EU security specialist Michael Emerson, of the Center for European Policy Studies in Brussels, says the bloc is far from united on the issue but pressure is building for a decision.
"France wants to go ahead and lift the embargo," he said. "I think the UK [Britain] has moved to the position that they would rather defer the question for the time being. And Germany seems to be divided between [German Foreign Minister Joschka] Fischer, who would like to put down the firmer marker [would like to demand more from China], whereas Chancellor Schroeder would like to go ahead and lift the embargo…. You can't infinitely finesse a question like this. You're handling it. You either do it or you don't."
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer this week said China should take concrete steps on human rights and Taiwan before the ban is lifted.
The EU imposed the embargo following the 1989 crackdown on democracy protesters in Tiananmen square. France says it is outdated. But other European officials expressed concern after China recently passed a law allowing the use of force against Taiwan if it declared independence. Beijing considers Taiwan a breakaway province.
Washington opposes ending the embargo, saying it will allow China to acquire high-tech weapons that could be used against Taiwan. Some Europeans want to avoid a dispute with Washington just as trans-Atlantic relations are recovering from the clash over the Iraq war. EU Commissioner Ferraro-Waldner. "We are also in favor of launching a strategic dialogue with the United States on the subject of Asia, including also China and the wider security in the region," he said.
Meanwhile, China is the number one trading partner for the EU and is becoming a larger economic and political power on the world stage.