Fri, May 07, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Wen: EU embargo will end

REUTERS , BRUSSELS

Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) said on Wednesday he was confident the EU would end its arms embargo and pledged progress on the human rights worries which have barred progress on the issue so far.

"I think the European Union is looking at this question very positively and many members of the European Union have also adopted a positive attitude on this question," Wen told reporters in Brussels, when asked about his hope for an end to the embargo.

"That is why I have great confidence that there will be a solution to this problem," he said, speaking after meeting Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt.

Wen, in Belgium as part of an 11-day European tour, also met EU foreign affairs chief Javier Solana and was due to face tough trade questions at EU headquarters yesterday.

The embargo was imposed after the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, and EU foreign ministers recently told the Chinese no change was likely before the middle of this year.

Verhofstadt said Belgium and other EU states favored lifting the ban, if progress on rights was made.

Wen said his country was preparing to take a step in this direction by ratifying the International Convenant on Civil and Political Rights, which it signed in 1998.

Diplomats have said Washington has put pressure on the EU to the keep the ban, accusing the Beijing government of backsliding on human rights and saying that selling arms to China could upset the strategic balance in East Asia.

With China now the EU's second-largest trading partner, Wen's meeting yesterday with European Commission President Romano Prodi will include many thorny issues.

"Things are booming, [trade] frictions are around and some will be on the agenda tomorrow, but I wouldn't overplay that," one EU official said.

The commission will discuss China's yuan, which many in European industry believe is artificially undervalued, and how to get China to ease export limits on coke.

Coke is used in steelmaking and tight supply is one reason steel prices have risen, squeezing sectors such as car makers.

The EU is also worried that China has introduced new requirements on European construction companies to qualify to take part in massive building works for the 2008 Olympic Games.

These included getting licenses and being part of a Chinese system where they have to prove their experience to qualify for big contracts over several years, even if they are multinational corporations with decades of work behind them.

Four EU-China agreements were also to be signed yesterday, including one on customs cooperation to fight counterfeiting.

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