Monday

29th Nov 2021

Leaked cable shows fragility of EU arms ban on China

  • Tiananmen Square: Human Rights Watch says repression is worse than ever despite economic prosperity (Photo: CuriousGeoff)

With EU talks on lifting the arms embargo on China expected to revive after the summer break, a freshly-leaked US cable shows how close the union recently came to dropping the ban.

The dispatch outlines the positions of 12 member states who took part in a "heated" debate in the EU's Political and Security Committee in Brussels on 2 April 2004.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

France, the strongest pro-China advocate, said "the embargo is anachronistic and must go" and showed "zero flexibility" on asking Beijing to make reforms in return for lifting the embargo, arguing that "China would not accept human rights conditionality."

Austria, Belgium, the Czech republic, Greece, Italy and the UK made more nuanced statements but were broadly-speaking in the French camp. The UK said only that diplomats should study implications for regional stability before making the move.

Denmark led the anti-China opposition, saying "Any decision to lift the arms embargo must be linked to specific Chinese steps on human rights."

Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden were closer to the Danish point of view.

Ireland, as the then EU presidency, tried to avoid taking sides. EU foreign ministers also tackled the subject later the same month. But with no clear outcome, the ban stayed in place.

Rockwell Schnabel, the US ambassador to the EU at the time, wrote in the cable that "all [EU countries] agree in principle that the embargo should be lifted if certain conditions are met." He added: "Our efforts have managed to slow down the momentum in favor of removing the arms embargo, but have not killed this idea outright."

EU diplomats expect talks on the ban, imposed in the wake of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, to reopen in the run-up to the China-EU summit, due in autumn or winter this year.

Diplomatic sources told EUobserver the positions of two of the main players - France and the UK - have not changed, leaving Germany as perhaps the key swing country in the discussion.

The summit is due in a boom time in terms of China-EU economic relations - trade grew by more than 30 percent last year and China has bought billions of euros' worth of junk eurozone bonds during the crisis. But it is also due amid a severe crackdown on ethnic minority groups and dissidents, described as the worst in China's modern history by Human Rights Watch.

Ban or no ban, a second US cable leaked at the weekend noted that EU countries in 2003 sold China €400 million of "defence exports" and, later on, approved other sales of military grade submarine and radar technology.

A senior Irish diplomat, Dermot Gallagher, at the time "expressed surprise at this information, which, he said, would suggest that the embargo itself had been ineffective."

China shows interest in sponsoring EU bail-outs

Chinese diplomats are awaiting a detailed proposal on taking part in the EU bail-out fund, the EFSF, while promising not to push for market economy status or lifting the arms embargo in return.

China urges Germany and France to solve euro-crisis

Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao on Thursday offered vague promises to buy bonds from troubled euro-countries, but said that it is ultimately up to Germany and France to solve the crisis.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew report reveals bad environmental habits
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersImproving the integration of young refugees
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNATO Secretary General guest at the Session of the Nordic Council
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCan you love whoever you want in care homes?
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals

Latest News

  1. Consultancies pocketing EU millions prompts MEP grilling
  2. Russian mercenaries using EU-trained soldiers in Africa
  3. EUobserver wins right to keep VIP-jet story online
  4. New Covid-19 variant fears shake EU This WEEK
  5. Researchers slam EU safety review of glyphosate
  6. What EU political ads regulation will - and will not - deliver
  7. Dialogue and action – Nordic cooperation and view on COP26
  8. Belgium goes into three-week 'lockdown light'

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us