EU's Solana: End China arms ban
The EU may delay plans to lift its arms embargo on China.
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BRUSSELS, Belgium -- EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana has called on European leaders to lift their arms embargo on China, saying Beijing was making progress on human rights.
"It is not justified to maintain (the embargo)," Solana told reporters Wednesday as he arrived for an EU summit in Brussels, Reuters reported. "Things are moving (on human rights)."
He noted that the European Union had a regular dialogue with China on human rights and that the United States had not sought to censure China at the current session of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.
Solana said there had been no official change in policy since EU leaders agreed last December to work towards lifting the 15-year embargo by the end of June, Reuters reported.
But the 25-member bloc is widely expected to delay lifting the embargo amid opposition from the United States and concern over Beijing's passage of a law authorizing the use of military forces against Taiwan.
China regards Taiwan as a renegade province which must be reunited with the mainland eventually.
EU leaders meeting in Brussels have found themselves pulled between Beijing and Washington over the issue, although officials told The Associated Press the embargo wasn't discussed Tuesday as the two-day summit opened.
The embargo was imposed on China after the 1989 massacre in Tiananmen Square. Europe has long been divided over the ban, with some leaders calling it a Cold War relic that blocks trade opportunities.
French President Jacques Chirac's effort to end the embargo was set back last week when China's parliament passed a toughly worded law calling for the use of force if Taiwan declared independence from China.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the law could delay lifting the embargo because of the "non-peaceful" means China is prepared to use to block any independence bid by Taiwan.
But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told a news conference on Tuesday that the EU ban "is political discrimination against China and out of keeping with the times."
"The passage of the anti-secession law is an effort to ease tensions across the Taiwan Straits," Liu said. "Linking these two issues is unreasonable."
The U.S. Congress has threatened retaliation against the EU -- including not approving licenses for technology transfers -- if it lifts the embargo.
During a recent tour of Asia, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said lifting the embargo could alter the military balance in the region, where the United States has armed forces stationed.
Some members of Congress also have warned European leaders that if they sell arms to China, their relationship with Washington could suffer.
But leaders like Chirac are keen to end the embargo and boost trade with China as a way of counterbalancing U.S. power in the world.
The arms embargo is among a number of issues EU leaders are dealing with at their two-day summit.
On Tuesday, the leaders agreed on the need to revise controversial plans to open up the bloc's vast services sector.
They also promised that a deregulation bill will be radically rewritten in the hope that French voters will not reject the European Union constitution in a referendum in May. (Full story)
A new opinion poll suggests that most French voters would reject the EU constitution if a referendum were held today -- in part because of opposition to reforms designed to make the European economy more flexible, which unions see as an attack on job security and social services.
EU leaders are also being asked to approve a reform of the euro stability rules, which would give members countries more room to raise budget deficits to spur the economy. (Full story)
EU finance ministers on Sunday completed five months of negotiations, agreeing to allow member's budget deficits -- in exceptional circumstances -- to exceed the current ceiling of 3 percent of gross domestic product.
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