Issue raised ahead of premier's trip to the Asia-Europe Meeting in Finland Beijing yesterday called on the European Union to lift its 17-year-old arms embargo ahead of Premier Wen Jiabao's weekend departure for the Asia-Europe Meeting in Finland. However, the issue was unlikely dominate the talks, according to a Finnish diplomat. Li Ruiyu, deputy head of the Foreign Ministry's European Department, said at a briefing yesterday the mainland's call to lift the ban was aimed at eliminating political discrimination rather than seeking an increase in arms sales. 'The EU's arms embargo on China is a legacy of the cold war,' he said. 'The EU side has many times confirmed that it would make efforts to lift the arms embargo. 'We certainly hope the EU will honour its commitment about scrapping the ban and make the political decision at an early date, which will be conducive to further development of Sino-EU relations.' But Mr Li refused to say whether Mr Wen would raise the topic at the annual meeting in Helsinki, at the start of his week-long, four-nation tour starting on Saturday. Mr Wen will visit Finland, Britain and Germany, then head to Tajikistan next Thursday to attend the annual meeting for prime ministers of the six-member Shanghai Co-operation Organisation. The arms embargo, which was imposed on Beijing after the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, has been a central issue in every high-level visit between the mainland and EU countries for years. Beijing was optimistic the ban would be lifted last year after winning the backing of several major EU countries, such as France. But the issue proved to be a setback for President Hu Jintao and Mr Wen when they visited Europe late last year, diplomatic analysts said. The arms embargo was not expected to be a main focus of the summit, Finland's ambassador to Beijing, Antti Kuosmanen, said recently. Finland holds the EU presidency. Rather, trade and economic issues, especially growing trade rifts between the mainland and the EU, were expected to dominate the meetings, he said. The EU has been the mainland's biggest trading partner for the past two years, with total trade in the first half of this year at US$121 billion, up 21 per cent, according to Mr Li. 'Given the scale of the China-EU trade, it is normal that we encounter problems,' he said. The EU imposed temporary tariffs on leather shoe imports from the mainland early this year and accused Beijing of imposing discriminatory tariffs on imports of foreign car parts. Beijing and the EU would also seek to enhance co-operation on energy and climate change, Mr Li said. Meanwhile, Mr Wen will avoid Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi during the meeting because of Mr Koizumi's controversial visits to a war-linked shrine in Tokyo, according to another Foreign Ministry official Chen Xu . But Beijing would seek to improve ties after Japan elected a new premier later this month, Vice-Foreign Minister Wu Dawei said. 'We want to use the power change as an opportunity. We hope [Japan] will act accordingly once a new cabinet is formed,' Mr Wu told Japan's Jiji Press news agency.