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US Opposes French Move to Reverse Ban on EU Arms Sales to China - 2004-01-28

The United States said Wednesday it opposed a French move to seek the lifting of a European Union ban on arms sales to China. The State Department says human rights concerns that prompted US and European arms embargoes still apply.

Nearly 15 years have passed since the Chinese military crackdown against democracy protesters in Beijing that prompted the Western arms embargoes. But the Bush administration says "serious" human rights abuses continue in China and it says the weapons bans should remain in place.

The comments follow an assertion by French President Jacques Chirac to his visiting Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao Tuesday that the ban "makes no more sense" in the current political setting, and that France is urging its European Union partners to lift the embargo.

At a news briefing here, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher Boucher said the U.S. arms sales ban remains in place and that others should maintain their current arms embargoes as well. "We believe that the U.S. and European prohibitions on arms sales are complementary, were imposed for the same reasons, specifically serious human rights abuses, and that those reasons remain valid today," he said.

Mr. Boucher said the United States has had "senior level" discussions with French and other European Union member nations about the China arms restrictions.

Germany has also indicated it would like to see the arms ban lifted. But several other EU countries, including the Netherlands and Scandinavian states, have said they oppose the idea.

Last month, the European Parliament said persistent human rights violations overshadow China's remarkable economic growth, and that the gap between China's rights record and internationally-accepted norms is "worrisome."

The arms bans have been in place since shortly after China sent tanks and soldiers to crush pro-democracy protests by students in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in June of 1989, leaving hundreds of demonstrators dead.

Ending the ban on European arms sales would likely give a further boost to China's military modernization program, which is a cause for concern for some of its neighbors, including Taiwan.

The United States is obligated to sell Taiwan defensive arms under an act of Congress approved when US diplomatic recognition was switched from Taiwan to Beijing in 1979.