The European Union has pledged to work towards lifting its 15-year-old arms embargo on China. The embargo took centre stage at an EU-China summit in the Netherlands. The United States fears that ending the embargo could upset the strategic balance in Asia. Others are more concerned about Beijing’s human rights record. A joint statement issued in The Hague confirmed the EU’s political will to continue to work towards resuming the arms sales. The Chinese side welcomed the positive signal.
Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said the ban was a relic of the Cold War and did not accurately reflect today’s EU-China partnership. France and Germany most favour removing the ban. Britain and Sweden say rights progress must come first. Currently head of the EU presidency, Dutch premier Jen-Peter Balkenende summed up: “We have been giving a positive signal, we are thinking about it, we are taking into consideration all the elements that are relevant, for example by talking about the code of conduct of export on arms. We all know that it is linked to other issues. Today in any case we have been giving a positive signal, we are working on it, and of course there is a possibility, but that is not a guarantee.” A new code of conduct aims to ensure that EU equipment is not used in domestic repression or regional conflicts. Accords aimed at opening up lucrative trade possibilities were clinched at the summit, with a view to re-adjustment of the EU’s trade deficit with China, which in 2003 topped 64 billion euros.