UK blocks attempt to lift China arms ban

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The Independent Online

Plans to lift the European Union's arms embargo on China have been put on ice in the face of pressure from a group of countries, led by the UK, which now want to delay lifting the sales ban.

Plans to lift the European Union's arms embargo on China have been put on ice in the face of pressure from a group of countries, led by the UK, which now want to delay lifting the sales ban.

With the United States hostile to the idea of a resumption of EU armaments exports to the Chinese, several EU countries want to put a brake on the move in response to Beijing's tough line on Taiwan. Last week the Chinese government passed a law which would permit the use of force to stop any Taiwanese independence efforts.

The earliest that any move to remove the embargo could now take place is June. If there is no agreement by then, there could be a postponement until 2006 - after the British presidency of the EU, which runs from July to December.

Officials have drawn up proposals for a new, strict regime to apply to countries that have been subject to an embargo, including China. This is designed to reassure critics including those in Washington. But, because of the new nervousness about a decision, the Luxembourg presidency of the EU has not yet put this to senior diplomats for formal agreement.

The arms embargo, imposed in 1989 after the Tiananmen Square massacre, is a highly sensitive issue. France and Germany have led calls for it to be lifted. In principle, the UK is also happy to see the ban lifted, but it is sensitive to the damage that such a move could inflict on transatlantic relations.

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