EU presidency reconsidering China arms embargo
The Spanish EU presidency has indicated it is willing to reconsider the bloc's arms embargo with China, implemented over 20 years ago following the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown on Chinese pro-democracy protesters.
Following a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Tuesday (26 January), Spanish foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said his country was "weighing the pros and cons" of lifting the ban.
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"We are all aware of the new role which China is assuming in the world," he added.
China considers an end to the ban to be long overdue. "The embargo is outdated, it does not go along with the partnership between China and the EU," Wang Xining, spokesman for the Chinese mission to the EU, told EUobserver.
"Its a political principle on the definition of the relationship," he added, indicating that China was not necessarily going to place a large military order should the embargo be lifted.
France has been a vocal supporter of ending the ban, a line Moratinos said Spain would now follow, but other member states have traditionally indicated China's human rights record did not merit an end to the EU restriction.
Last October saw the EU lift an arms embargo against Uzbekistan however, despite continuing concerns about human rights in the central Asian nation, suggesting a reluctance to allow full Chinese access to EU military capabilities is also a factor.
European diplomats also queried whether the Spanish decision to visit the perennial issue would win the backing of all 27 member states this time round, with any decision requiring unanimity for a change of position.
The United States, which also maintains an arms embargo on China, is a further complicating factor, with the country likely to be reticent towards a unilateral European move.
The European Parliament has shown its support for the ban, voting in 2008 to maintain it as long as Beijing supports armed forces and groups involved in African conflicts in general.
News that Spain would revisit the thorny issue first hit the headlines last week following a China Daily interview with Spain's ambassador in Beijing.
The issue has subsequently attracted considerable media attention in the Asian powerhouse.