Britain should oppose lifting an EU embargo on arms sales to China if it does not receive assurances the move will not lead to an increase in weapons sales or transfer of "sensitive technologies" to Beijing, a joint parliamentary committee report said yesterday.
Lawmakers cited the threat of US punitive measures, as well as China's aggressive posturing against Taiwan, as reasons to oppose a removal of the ban.
The EU's arms embargo was slapped on China after the 1989 massacre of pro-democracy students in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, but France has led a group of EU countries arguing that it is outdated and should be lifted.
The report, issued by a group of lawmakers drawn from four separate House of Commons committees on arms sales, warned of "major EU-US trade repercussions" in the event the ban is lifted -- a reference to Washington's threats to cut European companies out of defense contracts and deny them access to US technology.
The report also mentioned the risk that "EU member states [could] enhance China's military capacity in a worrying way," and that weapons exported from Europe could be used for internal repression.
It stressed that any end to the arms embargo should not lead to a qualitative or quantitative increase in arms sales, or the transfer of "sensitive technologies" to China.
"If such assurances cannot be obtained we recommend that the government opposes lifting the arms embargo and any other change of EU policy with regard to arms sales to China."
Committee chair Roger Berry said the "very real risks involved in the lifting of the EU arms embargo on China ... must be mitigated effectively."
Britain has backed a lifting of the ban, but officials have signaled it will seek to defer the decision until later in light of increasing pressure from the US, which claims it would upset the balance of power in the region and put Taiwan at risk.
Diplomatic sources quoted by media this week have said that London and some other EU states including Sweden, Belgium and Italy were leaning toward postponement of the decision on the arms ban.
The parliamentary report comes only hours after Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott backed lifting the ban -- although his comments were later watered down by Prime Minister Tony Blair's office.
Prescott, standing in for Blair, told parliament "I think the good sense in Europe will be that they will come to some agreement on this matter and lift that embargo."
Blair's spokesman said afterwards that the government supported EU plans to lift the embargo in principle but wanted first to create a strong code that would regulate sales to China.