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EU fails to sway US on China arms ban

March 16, 2005

By Guy Dinmore in Washington
Published: March 16 2005

A high-level European Union delegation sent to Washington to persuade US officials of the case for lifting the EU arms embargo on China failed to convince either the Bush administration or members of Congress, who are threatening retaliatory legislation, officials on all sides said yesterday.

A senior EU official admitted the timing of the visit was unfortunate: The Europeans sought to assuage US concerns on the same day that China passed a law permitting military force against Taiwan if the island moved towards formal independence.

“We can’t solve this in one visit,” the official said. Congress promised nothing, he added.

The two sides also disagreed over China’s human rights record, with the EU pointing to a “lot of progress” while US officials have spoken of “backsliding”.

The EU delegation, which held two days of talks with US officials and members of Congress, was led by Annalisa Giannella, the personal envoy on non-proliferation issues to Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief.

There was surprise at the level of mistrust on the issue between the EU and US.

A senior US official said the Bush administration’s position was clear: “Ending the embargo is a bad idea,” he said.

The EU imposed its non-mandatory arms embargo on China in 1989 in response to the mass killing of pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing. The EU also maintains a formal embargo on Zimbabwe, Burma and Sudan.

In spite of the embargo, EU member states approved licences to sell military equipment worth over €400m ($535m, £280m) in 2003 – nearly double the amount in 2002.

The EU case rests on its insistence that the leaky embargo will be replaced by a more rigorous “code of conduct” governing the issuing of licences, and a “tool box” that will oblige the 25 member states to reveal, for the first time, what licences they had approved and denied. Long-standing prohibitions on sales of “dual use” items remain in place.

European lobbying is intense. Last week Michele Alliot-Marie, the French defence minister, came to tell Donald Rumsfeld, her US counterpart, that France probably had the most stringent rules in the world on arms sales.

In his visit to Europe last month, President George W. Bush reiterated his opposition to the lifting of the embargo.

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