Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Antonione admits opinions differ on lifting China arms embargo

Agence Europe - 18 December 2003

Speaking to the European Parliament on Wednesday, the Council's President-in-Office, Roberto Antonione, said China seizes every opportunity to inform his EU interlocutors that the arms embargo upon it since the 1989 Tien an Men square repression is increasingly "anachronistic". Recently China made lifting the embargo one of the "short and medium term" priorities in its relations with the EU, the Italian Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs said. He mainly noted that the Chinese leaders, renewed since the Party Congress of 2002, is quite removed from the events in Tien an Men square. The Council President admitted that China refused to link lifting of the embargo to progress made with regards human rights, although it still has a long way to go. He pointed out it had been clearly stated in Beijing that the conditions for lifting the embargo had not been met. He acknowledged the fact that the opinions expressed by Member States on this issue differ. The European Council of 12 December called on the General Affairs Council to examine the issue, which will be done at the first General Affairs Council under Irish Presidency, he recalled (on 26 and 27 January 2004). Development Commissioner Poul Nielson spoke along the same lines while noting that the lifting of the embargo would not have much concrete impact as arms sales from EU countries to China are governed by the code of conduct on arms exports which bans such exports to countries that use weapons as a means to repress their own people.

MEPs (who are to vote a resolution on Thursday) were unanimous: - both left and right wingers were against lifting the embargo. They cite human rights violations, threats against Taiwan (although Social Democrat Hannes Swoboda also calls upon Taiwan, and not just Beijing, to show restraint), and the situation in Tibet (Per Gahrton, Swedish member of the Greens/EFA Group, said they should open dialogue with representatives of the Dalai Lama). German Christian Democrat Thomas Mann was mainly critical of President Chirac and Chancellor Schroder who raised the problem of lifting the embargo at the European Council in Brussels, and welcomed the European Commission's intention to examine the legality of the contemplated sale of the Hanau nuclear plant to China. The co-president of the Greens/EFA Group, Daniel Cohn-Bendit (Ed.: who had asked Commissioner Patten to verify whether this sale is in breach of the EU regulation on dual purpose goods, i.e. both civil and military) exclaimed "our leaders are going off the rails". He told Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroder (whose policy concerning the war in Iraq he approved, he stressed) that lifting the embargo must be authorised only with the agreement of the European Parliament. The proposal to examine the lifting of the embargo "should not even be on the table", Italian Radical Marco Cappato exclaimed, saying such scrutiny seems to hint there will perhaps not be a decision today, but rather "tomorrow or the day after". What specific positive developments encourage our leaders to now bring up the question of lifting the embargo?, asked British Conservative Geoffrey van Orden, who doubts how appropriate the agreement concluded with China on Galileo is, because of the military aspects of the project. Charles Tannock, also a British Conservative, welcomes China's cooperation in the fight against terrorism, its rapprochement with India and its pressure on North Korea, but also notes the inhumane treatment of North Korean refugees who were sent back to their homeland despite the dangers awaiting them there. He therefore said "no" to lifting the embargo.