British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw yesterday defended his country's campaign to lift an EU arms embargo on China, calling it inconsistent when human-rights violators such as North Korea weren't under a similar ban.
Straw said Britain wants to see China covered instead by an EU code of conduct that regulates all weapons sales to other countries.
"The code is wider and stronger than this individual embargo," he said after meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing (李肇星).
"There is an issue of consistency here because there are embargoes on China, Zimbabwe and Burma. There is not an embargo with respect to North Korea, which has a terrible human-rights record," he said.
Chinese officials said the arms ban would be a key issue in talks with Straw.
But in brief comments to reporters, Straw and Li didn't say whether they took up the issue or what else they discussed.
The US, Japan and other governments have lobbied the EU to retain the arms embargo. Washington says arms sales could undermine East Asian security, endanger Taiwan and hurt efforts to push China to improve human rights.
EU leaders say the embargo could be lifted in as little as six months following an official review. Britain, France and Germany say the ban hinders relations with Beijing, and that there are safeguards preventing any arms sales from being used improperly.
Straw said earlier that no decision was likely for at least two months, but he has said the ban probably would be overturned within six months.
"No conclusion has yet been arrived at," he said.
Japan lobbied Straw to retain the embargo during a stop on Thursday in Tokyo.
"Japan opposes lifting the ban," Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura told him, saying that the issue concerns the "security and environment" of East Asia.
The EU code of conduct requires EU nations to ensure weapons they sell are not used for internal repression, external aggression or where serious violations of human rights occur.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan (