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France supports lifting of ban imposed after Tiananmen massacre

China is renewing pressure on the European Union to end a ban on arms sales imposed in the wake of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, RFA reports.

At a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Jan. 26, France won a decision from its European partners to examine the arms embargo in the hope of placing it on the agenda for a summit meeting in late March. The initiative coincided with Chinese President Hu Jintao's recent visit to France. China is seeking to buy French Mirage fighter jets.

Analysts said that while China's efforts to get the ban lifted were the result of a growing need to upgrade its military and dual-use technology, and the French backing for Beijing's EU initiative was a good opportunity to improve its standing in the international community.

"I think that they hope that in an era where they're doing very well improving their image and projecting a more moderate and constructive role in international affairs that they can get the EU to lift its ban on arms sales, get the United States to end its restrictions on dual-use items and so on," Richard Bush of the Brookings Institution in Washington told RFA. "If I were in their shoes, I'd try to use this opportunity, as well."

Beijing also urged the EU to lift the ban in its first white paper on EU-China relations released in Beijing in October 2003, during a top-level diplomatic visit from EU officials.

Although other EU members including Germany have argued for allowing arms sales, it is far from certain that the EU will make a decision by April 1, as French President Jacques Chirac recommends. Germany hopes to sell submarines to China, but its government believes the move would be premature.

"It seems from talking to some involved in the EU that the initiative went over like a lead balloon in most other European countries," said Derek Mitchell, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington and a former Pentagon official. "Many of them are looking to EU foreign policy to be more engaged on human rights and democracy as sort of a central tenet, and that they don't see any sort of improvement or exceptional improvement in the Chinese context. So, they're very reluctant actually to follow up on the French initiative."

Last week, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said his government did not feel ready to lift the ban for the present time. The Netherlands and Scandinavian countries also oppose arms sales because of human rights concerns.

China's bid for western military hardware follows months of campaigning aimed at convincing the United States to ease its export restrictions on "dual-use" items, the advanced high-tech products like semiconductors that can serve both civilian and military uses.

Beijing has argued that ending the export limits would help the United States to reduce its huge trade deficit with China, which reached nearly $124 billion in 2003. The U.S. government opposes arms sales to China and has shown no signs of changing its policy on dual-use goods.

However, a U.S. administration was unlikely to risk the political opposition to proposed weapons sales to China, Brookings' Bush said. "The last thing that the United States, which has stated a security commitment to Taiwan, wants to see is our friends helping China become more and more able to conduct military actions against Taiwan." He said the U.S. had already urged the EU not to sell arms to China, either.

"With respect to dual-use items, there are changes all the time with respect to specific technologies, but we will continue to maintain controls on the most sensitive technologies which might have a military application," he told RFA correspondent Michael Lelyveld.

The sanctions were imposed in June 1989, shortly after People's Liberation Army troops gunned down unarmed protesters in and around Tiananmen Square, killing hundreds, perhaps thousands of people.

China recently called the arms sale ban "a relic of the Cold War," but recent official media commentary has declined to mention the reason it was imposed in the first place.#####


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