EU and Chinese officials yesterday debated their flourishing bilateral ties, but officials said the EU will keep in place its 15-year-old arms embargo to force Beijing to improve its shaky human rights record.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (
As the talks got underway, officials speaking on condition of anonymity said the time was not right to end the embargo, given broad opposition in many EU nations.
China is on a buying spree of sophisticated military hardware for its 2.5-million strong People's Liberation Army.
It wants the EU to lift its arms ban, imposed after the bloody 1989 crackdown on the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests.
Germany and France, eager to sell to China military, support an end to the embargo, but other EU nations are opposed, as is the US. Washington has threatened to halt the transfer of defense technology to Europe if the EU ban is lifted.
"When considering the lifting of the ban, the broader relationship with China comes into play," Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Bot recently told his parliament.
"The human rights situation is an important part of that. A decision on lifting the ban is not currently at hand."
Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, whose country now holds the EU presidency, led a high-level EU delegation in the talks with Wen.
Also on the agenda were such issues as Taiwan's elections, non-proliferation and the economy.
Human rights groups say China has a long way to go on improving its human rights record.
Amnesty International says "torture and ill-treatment remain widespread and endemic within China's criminal justice system" and has called on Balkenende to address the issue.
Ahead of the EU-China talks, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue (章啟月) rejected the human rights argument as justification for maintaining the ban.
"To maintain such an embargo is discriminatory and an obstacle to the promotion of China-EU relations," Zhang said.
The EU and China will sign a number of political and economic deals. On Thursday, Wen is to meet with European business leaders and visit the European Space Agency.
China's awakening as an economic giant has led to fast-growing economic ties. In 1980, China ranked 25th on the EU's list of most important trade partners. It rose to 14th, sixth and third place in 1990, 1999 and last year, respectively, according to EU figures.
The EU reconfirmed its commitment to its "one China" policy yesterday, but urged Beijing to resolve its disputes with Taiwan peacefully.
In a joint communique issued after a summit between visiting Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (