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French President Wants Ban on Arms to China Lifted - 2004-10-07

French President Jacques Chirac says he will lobby the European Union to lift its arms embargo on China, despite divisions within the EU on lifting the ban and opposition from the United States.

President Chirac told the Xin Hua news agency that France supported the lifting of an arms embargo against China, imposed after the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

In a transcript of the wide-ranging interview, released by the French presidency, Mr. Chirac said the embargo was suited for another time, and no longer reflected present-day realities. He said Paris would push the European Union to lift its embargo as swiftly as possible. But the French president acknowledged strong reservations remained on the part of the United States and of some EU members about rescinding the embargo.

Germany has sided with France in favor of lifting the arms embargo. But other European countries, such as the Netherlands and Sweden, oppose doing so.

Washington and Taiwan are also opposed to lifting the weapons ban. Indeed the publication of Mr. Chirac's remarks Thursday came as a top U.S. official was meeting with EU diplomats about maintaining the ban.

Mr. Chirac's interview with the Chinese news agency comes ahead of his state visit to China, which begins Friday. The French president is currently in Vietnam.

In January, France launched a special cultural year on China, which included hosting China's President Hu Jintao and featuring Chinese writers in its annual book fair in Paris.

During Mr. Hu's visit in January, Mr. Chirac also appealed for the EU to lift its arms embargo on China. And he criticized plans by Taiwanese politicians to hold a referendum on separating from China as "irresponsible and dangerous."

Along with politics, economics is central to Mr. Chirac's upcoming visit to China. Trade between the EU and China is booming. The French president told the Chinese news agency he hopes to double the number of small and medium-sized French companies doing business in China, and would push for a French company to secure a contract to build a high-speed rail link between Beijing and Shanghai.

Meanwhile, two French human rights groups Thursday called on Mr. Chirac to stress human rights issues during his talks with Chinese officials during his visit.