Tuesday, 19 October 2004

Questions (86)

Brendan Howlin


211 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the EU decision to lift the arms embargo against China; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25301/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The European Council on 12 December 2003 invited the General Affairs and External Relations Council, GAERC, to re-examine the question of the embargo on the sale of arms to China.

Initial discussion at the GAERC took place on 26 January 2004, when it was agreed to invite the permanent representatives' committee, COREPER, and the political and security committee, PSC, to look into the matter. The issue was further reviewed at the GAERC in April and again last week, where it was decided that the preparatory work should continue, in order that all technical issues surrounding it could be fully examined. Any decision on the lifting of the arms embargo will require consensus among EU partners.

There is broad agreement within the Council that the arms embargo, which was imposed in reaction to the events of June 1989 in Tiananmen Square, does not reflect the quality of the rapidly deepening relationship between the EU and China 15 years on. However, there is as yet no agreement to lift the embargo.

One reason for this is that discussions are still ongoing on a review of the EU's code of conduct, which sets out criteria governing all arms exports from the EU. Also, there is an awareness of public concerns regarding the commitment of the Chinese authorities to the protection of human rights. There is no doubt that there has been a significant improvement in the human rights situation in China since 1989. This is reflected in the regular EU-China human rights dialogue and the joint seminar which took place in Beijing in June on China's ratification of the Convention on Civil and Political Rights. Nevertheless, legitimate concerns persist in Europe and there is ample scope for the Chinese authorities to further demonstrate their stated commitments in relation to improving respect for human rights.

The Government will continue to examine this question with our EU partners, considering our overall relationship with China, our ongoing commitment to human rights and the broader regional and international context. This approach has been conveyed to the Chinese authorities, most recently by the Taoiseach during his discussions with Premier Wen when they met in the margins of the ASEM summit in Hanoi on 9 October 2004.