British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, whose country holds the EU presidency in the second half of this year, said on Thursday that there is little chance of the EU lifting its ban on arms sales to China.
Straw said there was still considerable opposition in Europe, given China's human-rights record and tension between China and Taiwan.
"That is reflected in a series of resolutions in the European Parliament. So that is the difficulty at the moment," he told a group of journalists from across the EU.
The EU embargo was imposed after the Chinese military crushed student protests at Tiananmen Square in June 1989.
EU nations have been debating an end to the measure for several years and Straw's comment indicated the issue will not be settled soon.
Britain assumed the EU presidency yesterday. As such, it will set the EU agenda for the rest of the year and is unlikely to lobby for a lifting of the ban. Britain, along with the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden, is most opposed to lifting the ban because of China's shaky human-rights record and Beijing's strident language in its dealing with Taiwan.
London is also wary of aggravating trans-Atlantic ties. The US has voiced concern about an end to the European arms ban, especially after China adopted the "Anti-Secession" Law recently authorizing military action against Taiwan.
Washington fears sales of high-tech arms to China's rapidly modernizing People's Liberation Army, the world's largest military by troop numbers, could increase its abilities to threaten US allies in Asia, including Japan and Taiwan, as well as its nearly 230,000 troops in the region.
Responding to such concerns, the EU is beefing up a code of conduct to govern eventual arms sales to China by the bloc's 25 member states.
"My guess is that there is still no consensus" to end the ban, Straw said.
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