Monday

16th Sep 2019

Focus

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

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join 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.

News in Brief

  1. Nearly 100 refugees evacuated from Libya to Italy
  2. Juncker to meet Johnson on Monday
  3. First Hungary 'Article 7' hearing set for Monday
  4. Vestager picks Danish EU ambassador as cabinet head
  5. Commissioner hearings will start 30 September
  6. Italy says EU countries agree to take in rescued migrants
  7. Germany to organise Libya conference on arms embargo
  8. European Parliament to support another Brexit delay

Agenda

Brexit and new commission in focus This WEEK

Jean-Claude Juncker will meet Boris Johnson for the first time, but no breakthrough is expected in Brexit talks. MEPs are preparing to hear from the commission-designates, while Hungary will be grilled at the EU affairs' ministers meeting.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  6. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  8. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  9. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  10. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  11. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat

Latest News

  1. Brexit and new commission in focus This WEEK
  2. As recession looms Europe needs more spending
  3. How should the EU handle Russia now?
  4. EU defence bravado criticised by auditors
  5. Central European leaders demand EU Balkan accession
  6. Luxembourg's cannabis legalisation is EU opportunity
  7. The Catalan National Day has been a success. Why?
  8. Why I'm voting against the von der Leyen commission

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us