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EU ready to end ban on china arms sales { December 8 2004 }

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December 08, 2004

EU ready to end ban on arms sales to China
By Anthony Browne, Brussels Correspondent

A NEW transatlantic rift will open today when the European Union formally tells China that it is prepared to lift its 15-year-old arms embargo.
Washington said that the prospect that its Pacific forces could be threatened by advanced European weapons sold to China was unacceptable and that lifting the embargo would lead to restrictions on American co-operation with Europe on defence issues.

“We can’t countenance the notion of advanced European weapons technology finding its way into the People’s Army and threatening our forces in the region, or Taiwan,” a US government official told The Times. “It is very close to the bone for us. It is not at all in the EU’s interest to lift the arms embargo.”

At an EU-China summit in The Hague, Jan Peter Balkenende, the Dutch Prime Minister, will tell Wen Jiabao, his Chinese counterpart, that Europe has agreed in principle to end the embargo once China improves its human rights record and the EU has agreed a new code of conduct for arms sales.

The embargo has become one of the most sensitive geo-political issues, with the United States worried that its European allies will be arming a country that it sees as a potential military rival. The US and EU each imposed an arms embargo after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 but France and Germany have been pressing to end it to boost sales for their defence industries and to improve relations with Beijing.

China is spending billions of dollars upgrading its military capability and is rapidly becoming an economic superpower. Washington is concerned that East Asia remains militarily unstable, with China threatening Taiwan and North Korea threatening South Korea. The US is worried that Europe will sell China advanced technology, such as over-the- horizon-targeting systems that would enable the Chinese military to strike American ships hundreds of miles out in the Pacific.

Congress already is planning legislation that would ban the Pentagon from trading with any country that makes military sales to China.

It would look at ways to make defence trade across the Atlantic more difficult than it was already, a US spokesman said. “Congress will make it more difficult to co-operate with our European friends and allies on defence issues.”

China is demanding that Europe lifts the ban, insisting that human rights and arms sales should not be linked. “To maintain such an embargo is discriminatory and an obstacle to the promotion of China-EU relations,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

Britain has agreed in principle to lift the embargo although there is still disagreement over the timing and the conditions.

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