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EU may lift ban on arms sales to China
( 2004-01-24 10:41) (China Daily)

The European Union may end its ban on arms sales to China this spring, diplomatic sources said Friday, a move that could allow China's big-spending military to buy cutting-edge weapons ranging from French Mirage jets to stealthy German submarines.

At a meeting Monday, the EU foreign ministers will debate the issue but not make a formal announcement, said the officials.

"It will take a few months," said one EU diplomat close to the negotiations.

"But we are not talking about something way off in the future. In the spring, perhaps," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The foreign ministers of the 15 EU nations--and the 10 countries joining the bloc in May--have agreed to re-examine the embargo, said French foreign ministry spokesman Herve Ladsous in Paris. ``No one is really opposed to this objective,'' he added.

Proponents of ending the ban say there will still be the EU's Code of Conduct for arms sales to act as a safety net. The code forces EU nations to ensure the arms they sell are not used for internal repression, external aggression or where serious violations of human rights have occurred.

ver, last fall, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, on a visit to China, said France and Germany wanted the embargo gone.

There still is opposition to that in Europe. "We are willing to debate an end to the arms embargo, but for us this is not the right moment to lift it,'' said a Dutch diplomat.

The Netherlands and Scandinavian nations lead opposition to ending the arms ban, along with the European Parliament.

Last month, the EU assembly cited human rights violations, noting a report on relations with China that the EU foreign ministers endorsed in October.

It said persistent rights violations overshadow China's remarkable economic growth. It called the gap between China's rights record and internationally accepted rights "worrisome."

For its part, however, China responded by saying relations with the EU ``now are better than any time in history'' and that ending the arms ban can only make things better.

The EU and China are each other's third-largest trading partners with two-way commerce hitting $86.8 billion in 2002.

Beijing's progress in modernizing its military has worried some of its neighbors, especially arch-foe Taiwan, as well as the United States.

China has improved the accuracy of short-range ballistic missiles and cruise missiles, and Jane's Defense News says it has been trying to develop a stealth fighter jet.

Last year, it reportedly tested an air-to-air missile and expanded naval forces for the Taiwan Strait with eight missile-armed Russian submarines.

The military also has newly developed amphibious tanks and armored personnel carriers. According to one Pentagon report, by 2005 China will have the ability to inflict critical damage to Taiwan's infrastructure.

Eliminating the ban on weapons sales would open a huge and lucrative market for European countries, especially for France, already the world's third largest arms seller after the United States and Russia. France's 2001 trade in weapons totaled $2.9 billion.

In the past decade, Chinese purchases of fighter jets, missiles, submarines and destroyers have been a lifeline for Russia's struggling defense sector.

While China will likely continue to buy Russian arms--they are cheap and efficient--lifting of the EU arms embargo would toughen conditions for Russian arms industries that now have no competitor in the Chinese market.

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