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EU urged to maintain arms embargo against China


By Martin Banks, The Parliament Magazine
July 13, 2009

The EU is being urged to maintain the arms embargo against China, partly as a "bargaining chip" to help persuade Beijing to remove the 1500 missiles targeting Taiwan.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the embargo, introduced as part of the EU's response to the Tiananmen Square incident.

Recently, the Chinese authorities have tried to up the ante by pressing the EU to lift the embargo.

The country's ambassador to the EU, Song Zhe, recently told a European Policy Centre event that the embargo is out of step with the deepening relations between the EU and China and "it is an absurd political discrimination against a strategic partner".

However, a spokesman for the commission's external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said the there was no immediate prospect of the embargo being lifted.

The spokesman pointed out that the EU had set three conditions for China to meet before the embargo can be lifted.

The conditions are: to ratify the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; to free those jailed for the involvement in Tiananmen Square protests and, finally, to abolish the "re-education through labour" system of imprisonment without trial.

"Until these conditions are met there is no prospect of the embargo being lifted," said the spokesman.

Willy Faurtre, director of the Brussels-based Human Rights Without Frontiers International NGO, said, "I would like to suggest another two conditions which are also important to both the EU and Taiwan.

"First, China must remove the 1500 missiles deployed along China's southeast coast targeting at Taiwan and, second, China must formally renounce the use of force against Taiwan."

Faurtre said, "Should the EU follow Paris and Berlin which want to lift the EU's arms embargo, the last remaining post-Tiananmen-massacre sanction imposed by Europe, because the Asian giant has widely opened its doors to French and German investments?

"Should the European commission go on spending more than 100m a year on trade-related and business projects? Should Brussels continue losing 1m a year on a fruitless Human Rights Dialogue with China?"

He says that for years, dialogue on human rights with China has failed to achieve concrete results.

"Recent audits confirm this negative assessment: it is more or less pointless to attempt to engage Beijing on Tibet or political prisoners. Beijing simply instrumentalises its "dialogues" with the EU, the US, the Dalai Lama and other countries to neutralise its interlocutors," he said.

"Over the 20 years, there has not been any progress in the field of democracy, rule of law and human rights. Moreover, in the last few years, Beijing has increased the number of missiles pointed at Taiwan to 1500. Despite repeated moves by President Ma to ease the tensions between both countries, Beijing has not reduced its threat and the international community keeps silent and inactive.

"Unfortunately China does not want peace settlements through dialogue and democracy. The most blatant and recent evidence was the review of China's human rights record at the UN in Geneva on 9 February 2009.

"The Chinese delegation sabotaged the whole procedure and arrogantly rejected almost all the recommendations aiming at promoting democracy and human rights made by all the EU member states, as well as by Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Mexico, New Zealand, and Switzerland."

In the last 20 years, parliament has adopted more than 25 resolutions pointing at the deficit of democracy, rule of law and human rights in China.

Fautre says it has all been to no avail.

He adds, "Recently, the EU has agreed to China's entry into the WTO in return for very limited change to China's system of economic governance and the hope for political liberalisation, thereby giving up a useful leverage tool. It even spends 1m a year on a fruitless human rights dialogue.

"Human rights dialogues must be more result-oriented and concessions must only be granted to China in light of real achievements and political liberalisation.

"No human rights progress, no lifting of the arms embargo. No removal of the missiles threatening Taiwan, no removal of the ban on arms sales to Beijing."

His comments are largely echoed by Graham Watson, a UK Liberal Democrat MEP and, until recently, leader of the ALDE group in parliament.

Watson's views have added importance as he is strongly tipped to become new chairman of parliament's delegation to China.

Watson believes the embargo should remain for now and believes that, in the meantime, pressure can be applied on China to persuade it to remove the missiles targeting its small neighbour across the Taiwan straits.

"It could be a useful negotiating tool when it comes to the Taiwan missiles issue," he said.

He also points to a recent speech by Taiwan president Ma Ying-Jeou who said that Taiwan still feels sufficiently threatened to need help from the US in defending its national security even if once-tense relations with China have grown more relaxed since he took power in May 2008.

Although Taiwan/China issues may appear, at times, peripheral, the importance of Taiwan to the EU was emphasised by the recent opening of a new EU centre in Taipei to promote exchanges with Europe.

James Moran, director for Asia of the commission's external relations DG, said, "It is clear that Taiwan and Europe have a lot to offer each other and this centre provides a chance to make a difference."

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