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EU Not Yet Ready to Lift China Arms Embargo

The European Union says it is not yet ready to lift a 15-year-old ban on selling arms to China, but is working toward that goal. The arms embargo dominated a one-day EU-China summit in the Netherlands that both sides said strengthened their so-called strategic partnership.

The European Union is divided about ending the arms embargo, which was imposed on China after its bloody 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

France and Germany, eyeing lucrative trade deals in the world's fastest-growing major economy, have led a drive to lift the ban. Britain and Sweden say China still has to make progress on human rights before the European Union can end the embargo.

So, with no consensus among EU nations, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao did not get what he wanted most out of the summit.

Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, speaking through an interpreter at a joint news conference in The Hague, says the European Union will consider ending the embargo, but cannot do so just yet.

"I explained to Prime Minister Wen that, within the European Union, there is willingness towards lifting the arms embargo," he said. "However, this has to be viewed in connection with certain adjustments to the EU code of conduct on arms exports, and that is something that we are, at present, working on quite diligently."

The code of conduct mentioned by Mr. Balkenende is being strengthened to insure that arms sold by EU nations are not used for internal repression or external aggression. The United States has brought pressure on the European Union to keep the embargo intact because it fears that if China goes on a weapons buying spree it would threaten Taiwan and upset the strategic balance in Asia.

But Mr. Balkenende says Mr. Wen reassured him that China has no such intention.

"I appreciate that China views this as a political signal and that it is not their intention to embark upon a large-scale weapons procurement program in Europe," he said. "We attach a lot of importance to that fact, also in view of regional stability."

The Chinese prime minister did not hide his disappointment, describing the arms ban as a relic of the Cold War and an instrument of political discrimination against China. But he, too, was diplomatic in acknowledging that China and the European Union see things differently.

"There is no denial that China and the European Union are different in terms of history, social background, and cultural traditions," he said. "It is only natural that we still have differences on some issues, which is nothing to be afraid of, and those differences will in no way compromise the development of our relationship."

That relationship is growing. China has become the second biggest EU trading partner, surpassed only by the United States. Two-way trade last year exceeded $200 billion.