Chinese Activists Urge Europe To Keep Arms Embargo


2005.03.23
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Chinese-made MiG fighter aircraft at the Military Museum in Beijing. Photo: AFP

HONG KONG—More than 500 Chinese human rights and democracy activists are urging the European Union to scrap plans to lift its 1989 arms embargo on China, saying human rights abuses in China remain widespread.

"Sixteen years ago, the European Union set specific human rights conditions when it imposed a set of sanctions on China for its military crackdown on pro-democracy protests in June 1989," said the letter, addressed to EU Secretary General Javier Solana and President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso.

Doing away [with] sanctions without corresponding improvements in human rights would send the wrong signal to the Chinese people...

"Doing away [with] sanctions without corresponding improvements in human rights would send the wrong signal to the Chinese people... especially those of us who lost loved ones, who are persecuted, and for all Chinese who continue to struggle for the ideal that inspired the 1989 movement."

More than 500 activists signed the letter, including members of the "Tiananmen Mothers" who lost relatives in the 1989 crackdown in which hundreds and possibly thousands of Chinese citizens were killed.

While China insists the embargo is outdated, signs have emerged that the EU could put off plans to lift it. The United States has driven opposition to the planned move on grounds it would send Beijing the wrong message on human rights and alter the regional military balance.

Use of force, if necessary

The issue gained new urgency after China's parliament adopted a law March 14 authorizing the use of force if necessary to stop the self-governing island of Taiwan from formally seceding from the mainland.

"It is unfair to maintain sanctions on China so many years after the reason it [the embargo] was caused," Solana told reporters in Brussels March 23. But he added that "the human rights issue in China is a big concern that we have."

We would like to respectfully remind the EU of the enduring relevance of the events of 1989 to the Chinese people.

“We, the former leaders in the 1989 pro-democracy movement and families of victims of the Tiananmen massacre, would like to respectfully remind the EU of the enduring relevance of the events of 1989 to the Chinese people,” the letter said.

Future discussion of lifting the embargo should be conditional upon a general amnesty for all prisoners of conscience, reversal of the official verdict on the 1989 movement as a counter-revolutionary riot and the appointment of an independent “truth commission” to investigate related abuses, and adoption and implementation of the International Covenant on Civil Political Rights, the letter said.

No fundamental change since 1989

“Contrary to the claims made by some European leaders recently, the human rights situation in China has not undergone any fundamental change since 1989,” it said. “The regime’s position—that peaceful demonstration to demand democracy and freedom was ‘counterrevolutionary,’ hence justifying brutal suppression and even use of deadly force—remains unchanged.”

“Given the EU’s commitment to promoting human rights, democracy, and rule of law in China, we hope the EU will not let business [interests] stand in the way of advancing its ‘core values.’”

Signatories included “Tiananmen Mothers” Ding Zilin, Zhang Xianling, and Zhou Shuzhuang, “and 125 others [who lost family members in the June 4, 1989, crackdown],” along with 1989 student leaders Wang Dan, Liu Gang, Jiang Qisheng, Tong Yi, and Wang Youcai, and leading intellectuals Liu Binyan, Fang Lizhi, and Xu Wenli.

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