Washington, not unity legislation, blamed for impasse on EU arms

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 March, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 March, 2005, 12:00am

The European Union is unlikely to lift its arms embargo against Beijing this year, according to mainland analysts, who say the delay is due to intense US pressure, rather than the passage of the controversial Anti-Secession Law.

'The timing of the embargo's removal is not good now with the environment unlikely to improve in the next few months,' said Feng Zhongping , a Sino-European relations expert at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations. 'I doubt that a decision will be made by the end of this year.'

Jia Qingguo , associate dean of Peking University's School of International Studies, said: 'It's hard to say when the embargo will end, with the US actively opposing it. The EU does not have enough courage to say no to the US.'

The assessment came as France and Germany reiterated their support for an end to the weapons sanctions - imposed in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989 - by the middle of the year.

On Wednesday, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said at an EU summit that his position on lifting the sanctions had not changed. At the same gathering on Tuesday, French President Jacques Chirac said EU leaders had agreed the sanctions would end during the current term of the EU presidency, held by Luxemburg until June.

The European leaders' statements follow media reports quoting EU officials as saying the arms ban would continue. Mainland analysts were not surprised by the resurgence of debate on the embargo, which was originally scheduled to be lifted last year.

'The EU has to take into account what the US is saying, and the US is threatening sanctions,' Professor Jia said.

Not only did the White House oppose the lifting of the embargo, but Congress had recently warned it would stop technology transfers to the EU if it was lifted.

However, Professor Jia dismissed the notion that the Anti-Secession Law passed this month by the National People's Congress had delayed the removal of the ban.

'That is just an excuse. The EU does not want to admit that the US is forcing the change. By blaming China, they can save face,' he said.

Professor Feng said the EU had overestimated its ability to convince Washington. To ease US concerns, the 25-member bloc had said it would not sell advanced arms to Beijing under a strict code of conduct.

With such strong US opposition, Professor Feng said the EU might put off a decision until next year, especially as Britain would take over the six-month EU presidency in July.

'With Britain having such a special relationship with the US, they don't want to be the country to challenge Washington,' he said.

Asked about the earliest time the embargo could be lifted, Professor Feng replied: 'That is hard to predict. This issue just has too many changing factors.'