Protesters ask EU to maintain China arms-sale embargo

RALLY: Demonstrators visited the 13 European offices yesterday, saying China's human rights record did not warrant a lifting of the weapons ban

By Wang Hsiao-wen  /  STAFF REPORTER

Sat, Oct 02, 2004 - Page 3

Two hundred protesters streamed through downtown Taipei yesterday, chanting "No arms sales to China" en route to 13 European trade offices to call on the EU to retain a ban on selling weapons to China.

During the four-hour parade, organized by the Alliance to Campaign for Rectifying the Name of Taiwan" (511台灣正名運動), the rally presented petitions to the delegates of 12 European countries and asked them to stand fast against China, a potential global superpower.

"This is our most humble request -- to not sell weapons to China and imperil Taiwan," rally leader Peter Wang (王獻極) said at a brief meeting with Jean Lohest, deputy director of the French Institute in Taipei, Martin Hiesboeck, deputy trade delegate of the Austrian Trade Delegation and Jesper Vibe-Hansen, deputy director of the Danish Trade Organization's Taipei Office.

The European officials said they would take note of the message and forward the appeal.

The protesters also made stops at other European offices, including the European Economic and Trade Office in Taiwan. The office's deputy head, Frederie Laplanche, refused to comment after receiving the group's petition.

The EU embargo on weapons sales to China was imposed as a punishment after the violent suppression of the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests in 1989.

Since last year, some Europeans have called for the ban to be lifted, given changes in the EU's relations with China.

On Dec. 12 last year, French President Jacques Chirac proposed lifting the 15-year-old ban at the EU's summit. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder also reportedly expressed support for this during a visit to China to boost trade ties in December last year.

France is spearheading the moves to lift the EU embargo. Some say the country hopes that China's rapidly expanding armed forces can counterbalance US power.

Yet over the past 15 years, members of the campaign contended, China's notorious human rights record has not improved.

Strategic concerns should not override the EU's humanitarian initiative, the campaign said in its press release.

Taiwan cannot be the victim of rivalry between the big powers, analysts said.

"Lifting the arms embargo will be tantamount to giving the Chinese approval for posing a threat to Taiwan," said National Policy Adviser Yang Ching-chu (楊青矗).

Wang cited China's missile buildup.

"Now China already has 610 missiles aimed at Taiwan. Isn't that enough?" he asked the 200 protesters via loudspeaker.

China has poured over US$50 billion into its military budget, exceeding US military expenditures and making China the world's largest buyer of weaponry, according to the campaign's press release.

"China is a totalitarian, bellicose nation. The lifting of the ban will only put the Western Pacific on the road to chaos," said DPP Taipei City Councilor Hsu Kuo-yung (徐國勇), who joined the protest.

The activists purposely chose China's Oct. 1 National Day to voice their opposition.

In view of Chirac's scheduled visit to China on Oct. 8, the rally directed their criticism at the French president, condemning him as fawning over China and raising flags that read "Chirac sans [without] courage."

Lin Cheng-hong (林政弘), a middle-aged protester, said he doesn't want to see weapons made in France used against Taiwan.

Chen Yu-ling (陳譽齡), 28, told the Taipei Times, "how are we going to defend ourselves when China keeps buying arms?" as she held up a banner reading "Protect Democracy and Freedom" with her 22-year-old sister, Chen Yu-jing (陳宥菁).