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08-12-04, 16:34
EU stalls over lifting arms embargo to China

By Raphael Minder in The Hague

December 8 2004

China on Wednesday urged the European Union to end "political discrimination" and resume its arms trade, but failed to secure a clear commitment on the timing of such a move.

At the end of a meeting with EU leaders, Wen Jiabao, the Chinese prime minister, said: "The arms embargo is a result of the Cold War and does not reflect the current situation and the spirit of partnership between both sides.

"Lifting the embargo does not mean that China would start buying lots of arms in the EU. It means getting rid of political discrimination against China."

Jan Peter Balkenende, the prime minister of the Netherlands who hosted the summit, said "there is a possibility but it is not a guarantee" that the embargo could be lifted within six months.

China had hoped for a clearer response from the EU, in line with pledges made by various EU leaders over the past year. China indicated that trade relations could suffer if the embargo was not removed.

However, Mr Wen welcomed the "positive signal" given by the EU about lifting the embargo imposed after Beijing's crackdown on students protesting in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

On a visit to China this week, Gerhard Schröder, the German chancellor, called for the removal of the embargo. However, the 25-nation EU remains split over the issue in view of China's progress on human rights. The US firmly opposes lifting of the embargo.

The issue is further complicated by a debate within the EU over a new code of conduct that is meant to ensure increased transparency in the distribution and use of weapons that it sells. France is reluctant to disclose more information about its export licences.

The EU and China on Wednesday signed a deal that will promote cooperation over nuclear research and development. They also agreed that customs officers should work together to fight counterfeiting, an issue of great concern to many European luxury goods companies.

Mr Balkenende said there was also "some progress" on getting China to sign a repatriation deal for illegal migrants to the EU.

An EU official also said that China had agreed to consider further measures to avoid disruption to the world's textiles market, in response to demands that it should moderate its clothing exports after December 31, when textile quotas will be scrapped worldwide.