Arms sales embargo will be lifted eventually, says Wen

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 May, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 May, 2004, 12:00am

But Belgian prime minister says human rights issue remains a stumbling block

Premier Wen Jiabao yesterday said he was confident the European Union would eventually lift its 15-year embargo on arms sales to the mainland.

But his Belgian host said the human rights issue was still a sticking point in discussions.

Mr Wen, speaking alongside Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt during the second stop in his five-nation Europe tour, rejected suggestions that lifting the export ban should be conditional on Beijing ratifying the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

'The lifting of the arms embargo should not be linked to other issues,' Mr Wen said, adding Beijing was discussing human rights with various European nations.

Mr Wen said the central government had already ratified the International Covenant on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights, and was making preparations to ratify the pact on civil and political rights.

Mr Wen was responding to calls by Mr Verhofstadt for Beijing to ratify the agreement. While many EU countries support an end to the embargo, others have insisted that Beijing must first demonstrate that it has taken steps to improve its human rights record.

Earlier yesterday, Mr Wen said the central government was willing to engage in dialogue with EU countries about any issue - including human rights.

'We should not link [human rights] to other issues in order to solve the problem. With other issues, we can always have dialogue and discussions,' he said when asked how he would deal with EU members which want Beijing to demonstrate it is serious about improving human rights.

He said he appreciated the positive stance expressed by Mr Prodi and other European Commission officials on the requests to lift the arms embargo and grant the mainland the status of a full-market economy.

A full-market economy status would protect China from anti-dumping charges. Mr Prodi said a prelimnary assessment of the issue would be announced by June.

Mr Wen said he would make his case for having the export ban lifted by telling his European counterparts the central government had already amended the constitution to protect human rights.

He also urged EU members to understand the magnitude of difficulties the country faced. 'For a country with 1.3 billion people, it is a very difficult job to give people the right to survival,' the premier said. 'At the same time we are improving democracy and rule of law. This should be acknowledged.'

Mr Wen is the first Chinese premier to visit Belgium. Today he visits Rome, Pisa and Florence in Italy.