Fri, Jan 21, 2005 - Page 1 News List

European arms sales to China boom despite ban


European leaders faced embarrassment on Wednesday when figures showed a doubling in approvals of arms sales to China, despite an embargo imposed after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.

Amnesty International said it would closely monitor the conduct of Britain, France and Italy, Europe's largest arms exporters.

The warning came after figures showed the value of EU licenses to sell arms to China increased from 210 million euros (US$273.5 mil-lion) in 2002 to 416 million euros in 2003. France increased its share from 105 million euros to 171 million euros, while Britain increased its share from 79 million euros to 112 million euros. The license value indicates the volume of sales officially sanctioned.

The licenses, published in last month's edition of the EU's Official Journal, were legal because European countries are free to sell a range of "non lethal" arms to China.

Sales to China are governed by a code drawn up when the embargo was imposed after hundreds, possibly thousands, were killed in Tiananmen Square.

The recent dramatic increase in sales will raise questions about reassurances offered by European leaders as they prepare to lift the arms embargo this summer.

UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has attempted to assuage rights activists by saying Europe merely wanted to normalize its trading relations with China and had no intention of flooding it with arms.

A revised code will be introduced to ensure that China cannot acquire weapons for "internal repression or external aggression."

Critics say the code will be largely meaningless because it will be up to individual countries to enforce it. They also point out that the large volume of arms sales -- while an embargo is in force -- shows that manufacturers are itching to tap into China's market.

Dick Osting, Amnesty International's European spokesman, said: "We are planning to keep up the pressure. We will ask, what signals are European leaders sending [by lifting the embargo]?

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