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EU Proposes End To China Arms Embargo

The European Union is expected to make a huge step in its relationship with China this month by ending a 15-year arms embargo. But human rights group Amnesty International has condemned the proposal.

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The modern Chinese military could soon be benefiting from European arms exports.

The European Union has angered human rights organizations by revealing that a 15-year arms embargo with China could be lifted soon. Officials in Brussels announced on Wednesday that EU governments had discussed an end to the ban several times in recent months and were due to make a final decision on April 26, according to a statement from EU spokeswoman Emma Udwin.

EU foreign ministers are due to meet in Ireland next weekend, and will hold talks with their Chinese counterpart, Li Zhaoxing, as part of an EU-Asia meeting within the proceedings. Irish officials commenting on behalf of the current EU presidency have made it clear that while the arms embargo is not on the official agenda, the ministers from the European Union and China will cover "international and regional issues of common concern."

Germany and France promote plan

The driving force behind the proposed scrapping of the embargo comes from European powerhouses Germany and France. If the arms ban were to be lifted, it would open up a whole new defense market, particularly for Germany with its stealth submarines and France with its Mirage fighter jets -- two pieces of military hardware much coveted by the Chinese defense department. However, Germany and France may face opposition from Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands, and the EU as a whole faces pressure from the United States, which firmly opposes the lifting.

Despite their expected opposition, other EU nations are itching to get involved in what could be a very lucrative market, with defense suppliers keen to supply the fast modernizing Chinese military.

However, human rights organization Amnesty International reacted to the proposed dropping of arms restrictions by warning the European Union to consider the message it was sending to imprisoned human rights activists in China if it lifted the embargo.

Embargo began after Tiananmen Square

Studentenprotest auf dem Platz des himmlischen Friedens

Student Demonstrations, Tiananmen Square, 1989.

Lifting the embargo imposed in 1989 after the Tiananmen Square killings would be the "wrong message" if there was no "clear and concrete progress in return" on human rights, Amnesty spokesman Dick Oosting told reporters.

Amnesty is reiterating its call for an independent inquiry into the events of 1989 when China sent in tanks to break up pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in central Beijing, killing hundreds. "Activists who call for such an enquiry or criticize what happened, even in emails and on Web sites, are still being imprisoned to this day," it said in a statement.

Amnesty stated that it had "cautioned the EU to consider what message it will be sending to human rights activists in China, who are still being imprisoned 15 years after Tiananmen Square, if it lifts the EU arms embargo against China."

Leaders swap platitudes

European Commission President Romano Prodi met with Chinese leaders in Beijing on Wednesday in another show of the burgeoning relationship between the EU and the People's Republic. "China is now our second largest trading partner," Prodi said in his speech. "On present trends, the EU will very soon occupy a similar place in China's own trading hierarchy. Not much longer after that, it will probably be China's first partner." Prodi added that EU-China relations had never been so good. He did, however, also mention that more work could be done of the human rights issue in China.

Hu Jintao

Chinese President Hu Jintao (photo) responded in kind by telling the Commission president that China is ready to strengthen consultation and coordination with the EU on important international and regional issues. China is willing to expand mutually beneficial cooperation between itself and the EU, Hu said, adding that the two sides should join hands to contribute to world peace, stability and development. The Chinese leader said that his country supported the enlargement and integration of the EU and hoped the bloc would play a bigger role in international affairs.

The European Union and China set up a strategic partnership last year, an important decision that set a clear direction for the development of relations between them in the new century.

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