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Chinese visit to Brussels: the issue of the arms embargo on the menu?

(Credit: China Military Online)(BRUSSELS2) The visit of Chinese Vice-Premier Li Keqiang this week to Brussels will be an opportunity to discuss security issues, says the European Commission. And on the Chinese side, we think so very strongly. In a free opinion published in the Financial Times on May 1, the Chinese Vice-Premier thus affirmed that he wanted to tend towards “ a relaxation of controls on high-tech exports to China ».

China has, in fact, been the subject of an arms embargo declared autonomously by the European Union since 1989 after the army's intervention against demonstrators in Tiananmen Square. An embargo which exists only through a simple declaration from the European Council, it should be noted, without enforcement measures (*). The question of lifting this embargo has regularly been brought to the forefront. Already, in 2004, the European Council concluded: “ the European Council reaffirmed the political will to continue working towards lifting the arms embargo ».

Member States: divided but not fundamentally opposed to the idea of ​​lifting the embargo

Several Member States are in favor of this idea. The subject has been raised several times in different forums. Thus on April 2, 2004, the COPS spent a good hour and a half on the subject. According to the telegram (revealed by Wikileaks) from an American diplomat who had information from British and Hungarian counterparts, it was France which then campaigned most actively for the embargo to be lifted, followed by Spain. On the other side of the spectrum, it is Denmark which “leads the opposition”. The United Kingdom is also rather unfavorable to the immediate lifting of the embargo. Just like many countries in Eastern Europe. Between the two positions, the debates are based on the conditions for such a lifting, in particular on the question of human rights and in particular the release of the prisoners of Tiananmen Square. Generally speaking, we note that the Member States are not fundamentally opposed to the lifting, but it is the question of conditionality which still opposes them. The United States, which fears that China will benefit from a transfer of technologies, is actively campaigning against this lifting of the embargo and is sparing no effort... The telegram thus issues some “recommendations” about the actions to be taken to “continue to put pressure on European governments“, in particular by “engaging the European Parliament, and in particular the members of the Human Rights Committee”.

The High Representative: we are working on it…

On the side of Catherine Ashton, officially, it is affirmed that the position " has not changed since 2004 (…) we are working to lift the embargo, but progress in terms of Human Rights remains to be made". Ratification of the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights would, for example, be one of the conditions, as would tangible the field“. During a report to Foreign Ministers after her first trip to China in September 2010, Catherine Ashton put the “advanced economy status"And"the current embargo on arms sales” as subjects of discussion with his Chinese counterparts and in particular Premier Wen Jiabao. Before adding a third subject: human rights. She therefore believed that reviewing the strategic partnership with China implied looking at these different subjects. Here is the extract from this report (which has reached us):

MEPs and NGOs: not in favor!

The European Parliament has regularly been critical of China on the issue of Human Rights. For example, MEPs voted for a resolution in 2008 by clearly speaking out against the lifting, in particular because of the already significant export of Chinese arms to Africa, thus fueling conflicts. This resolution, which is not legally binding, has a political value that is all the more important today since with the Treaty of Lisbon, the European Parliament now has a greater right to review the signing of external relations agreements with countries. third parties (but not on the lifting of the arms embargo).

Several NGOs oppose the lifting of the embargo. For Amnesty International, this would not send the right message to the Chinese authorities, who have not yet released the 1989 prisoners and who continue to systematically violate human rights. “ Let's not forget why the embargo was put in place. This was in response to – in the words of the EU itself – “repressive actions against those who legitimately demand their democratic rights””.

Radio silence

No press conference is planned during the Chinese visit: no “awkward” questions possible therefore… Only “photo points” and “press releases” will be possible. A decision by Chinese services. “ We have clearly indicated our availability for a press briefing. And this point was not retained by our Chinese partners » replied the Commission spokesperson, rather embarrassed when she was subjected to a barrage of questions from journalists during the daily press briefing today (Thursday May 3).

(*) A decision taken at the Madrid European Council in June 1989 (see B2 docs)

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