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China Arms Embargo Outdated, French Foreign Minister Says

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, left, leads the way for French Premier Jean-Pierre Raffarin, center, as they review an honor guard during a welcome ceremony in Beijing's Tiananmen Square

France and China have signed $4 billion dollars' worth of business deals, after Paris pledged new support for lifting a European Union arms embargo on Beijing. Though some German officials have also expressed support for lifting the embargo, several other EU countries remain opposed. The United States has also strongly urged the EU to keep the embargo in place.

At a ceremony, Prime Ministers Wen Jiabao and Jean-Pierre Raffarin witnessed the signing of 20 agreements, including contracts for China to go ahead with the purchase of five Airbus A-380 super jumbo jets and other aircraft. Deals were also signed for possible French sales of nuclear power and railway equipment.

Mr. Wen gave a warm welcome to Prime Minister Raffarin, and especially to the promise he made that France would continue to push to lift a 15-year-old arms embargo, which Paris says is outdated.

At a briefing, Prime Minister Wen repeated China's claim that the embargo is obsolete.

Mr. Wen thanked his guest and praised him for expressing his country's support against the embargo.

Later, a Chinese foreign ministry official said the embargo has been an obstacle to developing a strategic partnership between China and Europe. He said an early lifting of it will help develop ties.

The European Union last week failed to agree on lifting the ban, meaning no decision is likely before next year.

Observers say the sales agreements Thursday were an easy score for France, which - along with Germany - has been seeking to win favor with China and a bigger piece of the Chinese market by supporting an end to the weapons embargo.

Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a senior researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research, says Mr. Raffarin's promises to continue opposing the embargo are risk-free at this point.

"This position does not cost too much to the French premier," he said. "So, it has been a very sort of cheap political benefit, which was given by the French side to the Chinese government in exchange [for] huge business deals. The objective of Raffarin's visit to China has been to grab a larger share of the Chinese market."

Europe banned weapons sales to China following the Chinese army's 1989 killing of hundreds - perhaps thousands - of unarmed pro-democracy demonstrators near Tiananmen Square. Beijing dismisses the crackdown as a reason to maintain the embargo, calling the ban a relic of the Cold War.

The European Union appeared poised to lift the embargo this month, but several nations including Britain, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden called for it to remain in place. Some supporters of the ban pointed to concerns over China's recent passage of an anti-secession law, which gives Beijing a legal basis to attack Taiwan.