Schröder seeks end to China arms ban

The 15-year EU arms embargo on China is to continue at least into next year, despite a call yesterday from the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder for the ban to be lifted.

At a summit tomorrow, EU leaders will tell China there has been insufficient progress on human rights and other issues to permit an immediate end to restrictions. But Mr Schröder's intervention highlights the growing consensus within the EU that the ban, imposed after the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989, is outdated.

In Beijing, where the Chinese government signed contracts worth €1.6bn (£1.1bn) to buy 23 European Airbus jetliners, Mr Schröder said he had called before for an end to the ban on weapons sales, and added: "My opinion hasn't changed." France has led the call for an end to the ban which, it says, places China among pariah states such as North Korea, Burma and Zimbabwe. Paris says that, with the EU normalising relations with countries such as Libya, and most European countries trying to build commercial relations with Beijing, the embargo should be scrapped.

One reason the EU is hesitating is pressure from the US which has called for the embargo to be kept, and threatened to curtail transfers of sensitive military technology to European countries if it were dropped. But most diplomats expect the embargo to be lifted next year, probably during the first six months, after some conditions have been met. Diplomats are not keen to make gestures to Beijing before the Taiwanese elections on Saturday.

The EU is hoping China will make a move over human rights, the original reason for the embargo. And the UK, Sweden and other countries are also pressing for a tightening of a code of conduct on arms sales which would apply to all exports from Europe.

Human rights groups remain critical of Beijing. In a report, Amnesty International said "torture and ill-treatment remain widespread and endemic within China's criminal justice system", and Reporters Without Borders has attacked violations of press freedom.

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