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. EU accord on lifting arms embargo against China not possible by June
BRUSSELS (AFP) Mar 29, 2005
EU members will unlikely reach agreement on lifting their arms embargo against China by the end of June as previously expected, a senior official said Tuesday.

"That was the goal but it is a goal that cannot be reached," said Luxembourg's junior foreign minister Nicolas Schmit, whose country currently holds the EU's rotating presidency.

"I tell you frankly. I would not bet today that the lifting of the embargo will be decided on before the end of June," Schmit said before the foreign affairs committee of the European Parliament.

Despite opposition from Washington, the EU has been moving towards lifting the arms ban that was slapped on China after the 1989 massacre of pro-democracy students in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

Led by France and Germany, European leaders last December had instructed the foreign ministers to draft an accord on removing the arms embargo against China by the end of June.

Support for lifting the embargo has waned somewhat since the Chinese parliament on March 14 passed a controversial anti-secession law, which authorises the use of military force against Taiwan if the island moves toward formal independence.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has said the law, which threatens the use of force against Taiwan should it declare formal independence, has "created quite a difficult political environment" for lifting the embargo.

While France and Germany still openly support lifting the embargo, several countries including Britain, Sweden, Belgium and Italy are opposed in various degrees.

Although Taiwan has had effective independence since splitting with China in 1949, Beijing considers the island an inalienable part of its territory, to be re-unified by force if necessary.

China considers the ban imposed after its bloody crushing of democracy protesters in 1989 outdated and wants it removed to bolster its reputation on the world stage.

The United States is opposed to the ban being removed, arguing that it would send "the wrong signal" to China at such a tense time. Washington fears lifting the ban could tilt the military balance in the Asia-Pacific.

US lawmakers have threatened to levy punitive trade sanctions on European companies if the EU goes ahead with the move.

In place of the embargo the EU plans to beef up a self-imposed code of conduct on arms sales, as well as refining an "tool box" of other measures it claims will ensure that no potentially inappropriate hardware is sold to China.

Schmit said the EU is continuing an active dialog with the United States to reach "positions as close as possible."

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