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Europe Ponders Arming China now
http://www.sina.com.cn 2004/12/23 12:01  Beijing Review

  Brussels has sent positive signals over lifting the arms embargo on China; Beijing denies an immediate large-scale purchase of weapons from Europe in the event of a ban lifting


  The 15-year-old European arms embargo on China could soon be removed. Ben Bot, Foreign Minister of the Netherlands, announced at a press conference after a recent EU foreign ministers’ meeting. The Netherlands currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union.

  TIME TO ACT: At the Seventh China-EU Summit, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao calls the EU to lift the arms ban on his country, saying it is a product of the Cold War and should be abandoned

  “There is a strong political will in Europe to lift the weapons ban on China,” said Bot.

  The minister said that European foreign ministers have been holding to two conditions before agreeing to end the embargo. One states that weapon exports to China should be strictly monitored after the embargo is ended. The other is that EU members must first reach an agreement on strengthening the management of arms sales. The latter, Bot added, would take several months.

  Prior to the latest development, EU sent positive signals over removal of the arms ban on China in the Joint Statement of the Seventh China-EU Summit held in the Hague, Netherlands earlier this month. It was the first time the EU had made a clear stand on the issue.

  EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said at the meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao that the EU would actively promote the process of removing the arms sanction on China.

  China has long opposed sanction and has appealed to the EU to remove the ban. Premier Wen said at the China-EU Summit that China’s request for an end to the embargo does not mean that China wants to immediately purchase advanced weapons from EU, but, rather, is opposed to what Wen calls “political discrimination.” Wen believes that the arms embargo is a product of the Cold War and is outdated today.

  Zhang Qiyue, Spokeswoman of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stressed at an earlier news briefing in Beijing that a decision on the arms ban is an issue of great political significance. She said China hopes that the EU would consider this issue as a basis for the overall development of China-EU relations and will act in a way that will benefit bilateral ties.

  The arms embargo was put in place after the “1989 Tiananmen Square event.” Zhang Zuqian, an expert on European affairs with the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, said that a major excuse for the EU’s reluctance to lift the arms sanction is China’s human rights record and the Taiwan issue. But this is only what is alleged by the EU, according to Zhang. The real reason behind the ban, he said, is the ideology and concern about China’s rapid rise as a world power.

  NOT DETERMINED YET: According to EU decision-making procedures, resolutions on issues like a removal of the arms ban on China must be agreed upon by unanimity

  Zhang admitted that the EU faces both internal and external pressure on the ban. Within the bloc, its members cannot reach agreement on this issue. Meanwhile, the United States, Japan and Russia have opposed lifting the ban for different political and economic concerns.

  Currently, the professor added, the elements in favor of China are expanding. In recent years, the relations between China and the EU have developed very smoothly and are perhaps at a historical high. Given this, maintaining the arms embargo is just not in tune with the copasetic relations.

  Wu Jianmin, former Chinese Ambassador to France, is also optimistic about an end to the arms ban, and said that he is confident that the EU will definitely end the embargo. The problem, he said, would be how long it might take.

  According to Wu, most European countries are expressing their willingness to ease the ban and say that an early move in this direction conforms to the common interests of both China and Europe.

  If the arms embargo continues, Wu argued, it would be incompatible with the current nature of the China-EU relations and go against the intentions to boost bilateral relations of both China and the EU.

  Some European analysts also agree that the arms embargo has no reason to remain under the current framework of sound relations between China and the EU. China and the EU have carried out a large number of joint projects, including the Galileo satellite radio navigation system and the EU-China Framework Program that is the biggest scientific project in the world. Based on such close cooperation, the analysts suggest that relations between China and EU should only become closer.

  Today, the economic ties between China and the EU have improved tremendously. The latest statistics released by China shows that the EU has become China’s largest trading partner, while China is the second largest one of the EU’s. In 2003, the bilateral trade volume increased by 25 percent over the previous year, which is considered as a “historic miracle” by Europeans. It is forecasted that the trade volume of 2004 will increase by 40 percent over that of 2003. Compared with that of 1978 when China just began to carry out reform and opening-up policy, the China-EU trade volume has grown by 40 folds up to 2004.

  Most European countries admit that the arms embargo has become a barrier to further development of bilateral relations. France and Germany have been active to remove the ban. They have called on the EU to abandon what they deem as Cold War thinking and make constructive efforts to bring about more dynamic China-EU ties.

  Zhu Feng, Professor at the School of International Studies of Peking University, believes that how the arms ban is treated by the EU will not only define the future relationship between China and Europe, but also show the manner in which the EU treats its relationship to China.

  “To China, the lift of the arms ban will be a milestone. It will mark an era of mutual trust between China and the EU and will show that the two sides have thoroughly stepped out of shadow of the ‘1989 event’,” he said.

  If the EU insists to maintain its weapon embargo, it means that Europe is still unwilling to recognize the overall development of China in the 15 years since 1989. It is not only unfair to China, but more importantly, hinders the further development of China-EU ties, Zhu said.

  The lift of the arms ban is actually symbolic to China. The EU should respect and understand the improvements that have taken place in China. Removal of the arms ban will not necessarily lead to large-scale weapon purchases or military expansion of China. In this sense, the EU should be farsighted, the Peking University professor noted.

  On the other hand, said Zhang Zuqian, the cross-Atlantic rift over the war in Iraq is being mended, which is helpful to resolving the issue concerning arms sales to China, as Washington and Brussels may make a concession to certain degree.

  Zhang pointed out that removing the arms ban is not only a good thing for China, but the EU will also benefit from it. Politically speaking, it will make the China-EU strategic partnership more substantial. In the economic and trade field, the EU will obtain more interests by exporting some products and technologies that were not allowed to be exported to China under the arms ban. It has been argued that shared military and security technologies would help with the cooperation in areas such as counter-terrorism and crackdown on organized crimes involving the two sides. If the arms ban remains, it might hinder security cooperation between the two sides, Zhang warned.

  Professor Zhu suggested that the EU could better standardize and regulate the future arms trade with China according to its weapon export rules. Besides, he added, China’s basic policy of peaceful development will also be helpful to add to the mutual trust and cooperation between China and the EU in military exchanges.



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