- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 22, 2005

From combined dispatches

BRUSSELS — China’s tougher stance on Taiwan threatened yesterday to derail European Union plans to boost ties with Beijing by ending a 16-year-old EU arms embargo.

New tensions over Taiwan would likely prompt European leaders at a summit in Brussels this week to delay a decision on ending the ban, diplomats said.

“It is clear that China has not fulfilled certain conditions for lifting the embargo, notably by not raising tensions in the region,” one EU diplomat in Brussels told Reuters news agency.

Lifting the ban, an initiative spearheaded by France and Germany, appeared certain to go ahead only weeks ago.

However, the proposal to end the arms freeze provoked a furious reaction from the U.S. Congress and warnings from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that allies “should do nothing” to alter the balance of power in Asia.

The final blow to what was already a fragile European consensus came last week when China passed an “anti-secession law,” authorizing military force against Taiwan if it declares formal independence from Beijing.

The United States has pledged to help Taiwan defend itself from a Chinese attack.

A second EU envoy, in Washington, told Reuters that China’s law against any independence move by Taiwan had blown plans to lift the embargo “out of the water.”

Others said no formal decision had been made on delaying an end to the embargo, which was imposed after Beijing’s bloody crackdown in 1989 on protesters during the Tiananmen Square demonstrations.

China urged the European Union to keep to the timetable for lifting the embargo, which it said was unfair and outdated.

“It’s unreasonable to link China pushing the EU to lift the arms embargo and China passing the anti-secession law,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told reporters in Beijing, insisting the Taiwan legislation was not aimed at war.

EU leaders were expected to discuss the embargo at a summit last night, although it was not formally on the agenda.

French President Jacques Chirac sees boosting trade and diplomatic ties with China as a way of counterbalancing U.S. power in the world. He won the backing of other EU leaders last December to prepare the lifting of the embargo by June 30.

Human rights groups argue that lifting the ban would encourage China to think it could get away with rights abuses.

“Doing away with this sanction … would send the wrong signal to the Chinese people, including especially those of us who lost loved ones,” the Tiananmen Mothers group of parents of victims killed in the 1989 crackdown said in an open letter to the European Union.

Faced with threats of U.S. industrial retaliation, countries such as Britain, with strong links to the U.S. defense industry, have been more wary about the move’s impact on trans-Atlantic relations, only just healing after the row over the Iraq war.

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