Minister upbeat on EU talks to end arms ban

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 October, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 October, 2004, 12:00am

No conclusions are reached, but Li Zhaoxing describes the meeting that tackles the cold war embargo as 'great'

Talks with the European Union to lift its 15-year-old arms embargo on China are making progress, Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing said yesterday.

'We had a great discussion,' said Mr Li, who met European Union officials on the sidelines of the Asia-Europe Meeting for 90 minutes.

'As time goes on, the relationship between China and the EU will be stronger and more fruitful to serve the common interest of the people of the two sides.'

Before the meeting, Mr Li called the arms embargo discriminatory.

'We believe there should not be any discrimination to a sovereign country, particularly a large nation with a 1.3 billion population, and one that loves peace such as China,' he said.

At the end of the meeting, Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot, whose country currently holds the EU bloc's rotating presidency, said the talks covered a range of issues, including the arms embargo.

'Many of the issues [discussed] and the process of an ongoing dialogue show relations between China and the EU are progressing,' Mr Bot said.

But he declined to say if the embargo would be lifted.

Along with Britain, the Netherlands objected to lifting the ban. Among European Union countries, France is the most vocal supporter of ending it.

'We are the president of the European Union at the moment and we will try to see what the opinions of the 25 member states are,' said Mr Bot, who said any decision was a matter of consensus, not of individual nations.

'We will take a position in light of the 25 member states.'

He added that the meeting served to map out an agenda for the December summit between the EU and China.

Also in Hanoi, French President Jacques Chirac said yesterday that the arms embargo made no sense and indicated that the European Union could lift the ban next year.

'France is in favour of lifting the embargo on China. Why? Because it is a situation which makes no sense in China today and which would have almost no consequences if the lethal arms embargo is removed and China naturally has no intention of importing those arms,' he said.

Mr Chirac said most European countries backed his view and a solution 'could be adopted, in all cases, I hope, at the beginning of next year. This is the aim'.

Mr Li said the ban served no one's interest.

'The European embargo on arms sales to China is well and truly a product of the cold war,' he was quoted as saying in Le Figaro.

'It will be lifted sooner or later as doing so is necessary for the sound and harmonious development of relations between China and Europe. We hope that the EU will make the decision as soon as possible.'

The embargo was imposed after the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989. Critics also say ending the embargo could tilt the military balance between the mainland and Taiwan.