EU arms-sales ban `will not be lifted'

RIGHT SIGNAL: The 15-year ban on arms sales to China is to continue indefinitely because of the passage of China's 'Anti-Secession' Law, a top German lawmaker said


Fri, May 20, 2005 - Page 1

The 25-nation EU is abandoning, for now, a plan to lift its 15-year-old embargo on weapons sales to China, a senior German legislator said.

"It will not be lifted," said Volker Ruehe, chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the German parliament, on Wednesday. He said the reason was China's recent adoption of the "Anti-Secession" Law threatening military action against Taiwan.

"It would send the wrong signal," said Ruehe, who was in Washington primarily to urge the Bush administration to endorse a proposal for permanent seats on the UN Security Council for Germany and five other countries.

The Bush administration has clashed with the Europeans over weapons sales to China, saying China's poor record on human rights justifies maintaining the weapons ban.

Informed of Ruehe's remarks to reporters, a senior US official said the administration did not foresee any lifting of the embargo. But, speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said removing the ban still had some strong European support, particularly from France.

Germany and France have long urged fellow EU members to remove the embargo, while Britain, the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden wanted to keep it because of China's human-rights deficiencies.

The Europeans imposed the embargo after the Chinese military crushed student protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989. The US, which bans arms sales to China, urged the Europeans to maintain the ban as a means of pressuring China on human rights.

The dispute has put trans-Atlantic ties under renewed strain. The US said ending the ban would create more instability in East Asia.

An EU foreign-ministers meeting in Luxembourg last month failed to develop a consensus on the issue, and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said the EU would keep the issue under study and step up discussions with the US.

French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier called Europe's burgeoning relationship with China "very important" and said he hoped the EU would return to the issue next month.

China's foreign ministry spokesman has previously denounced the embargo as an example of "political discrimination."

The Europeans had pledged not to sell lethal weapons to China if the ban were lifted, saying only that items such as helicopters might be sold.

Ruehe, meanwhile, was sent to Washington by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to lobby Bush administration officials for adoption of a proposal giving Germany and five other countries permanent seats on the UN Security Council.

The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had apparently ruled out a seat for Germany during a meeting with members of a congressional task force.

US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher declined to comment on the report.

"Enlargement is what is being discussed," he said.

"If we find that some of these proposals can make the council more effective, then certainly that's where we will throw our support. But at this point, we haven't taken a position pro or con for any particular proposal," he said.

The administration, however, has publicly endorsed Japan for a permanent seat.