07/14/2005, 00.00
CHINA – EUROPEAN UNION

Barroso in Beijing to launch strategic partnership

Chinese Foreign Minister says the two sides will discuss removing EU ban on arms sales. For the Deputy Speaker of the European parliament, this represents another confusing act.

Beijing (AsiaNews) — EU arms ban on China is back to the fore as hot as before. The issue is part of the discussions to be held by EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso during his five-day visit to Beijing.

Before leaving Bruxelles, Barroso said that his mission was to "develop a strategic partnership" between the European Union and China.

The EU President, who is scheduled to meet Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao today and Chinese President Hu Jintao tomorrow, said that "[i]t is in China's and Europe's interest to build a partnership strong enough to deal with the global challenges we face".

"At the same time, China and Europe also stand to gain from upgrading our political relations in vital areas such as human rights, non proliferation, anti-terrorism and migration," he added.

Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing said that the EU ban on arms sales to China will be among the issues to be discusses.

Initially scheduled to end in June, the ban was extended following US pressures and opposition by scores of EU lawmakers.

Mario Mauro, Deputy Speaker of the European parliament, told AsiaNews that for him "Barroso's visit to China is another confusing act by European institutions, especially the European parliament, in terms of the relationship between Europe and the rest of the world. I say confusing because Foreign Minister Li's interpretation says a lot about the content of the discussions".

For Mauro, "once the visit is over, each will publicly focus on what interests them most. The EU's bureaucracy will continue to pursue this mindless plan to remove the arms ban".

"President Barroso," he said, "has the same note that I used when I called for an emergency debate in parliament about the abductions and unjust detention of Catholic priests and bishops in China".

The note echoes the campaign AsiaNew launched on March 5 to free bishops and priest, campaign which Mauro joined.

"Unfortunately, these same bureaucratic structures and many political groups are against debating the issue in parliament," Mauro said.

In a resolution on the EU's common foreign and security policies passed on April 14, the European parliament called on the EU to maintain its arms embargo China unless the latter took concrete steps in terms of human rights protection and on Taiwan.

Point 32 of the resolution—which was adopted with 431 votes in favour, 85 against and 31 abstentions—deplored the fact that relations with China had improved only at the levels of the economy and trade without any consideration for human rights and democracy.

For this reason, MEPs urged the Council not to revoke the arms embargo but seek instead solutions that would favour dialogue, reduce tensions and encourage cross-channel disarmament.

The EU imposed the arms ban on China following the brutal crackdown against student protests in Tiananmen Square in June 1989.

For some time, several EU members, among them Germany, France and Italy, have been pushing for lifting the ban. 

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