The EU is considering lifting its ban on weapon sales to China, imposed following the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

China has been pushing the EU to drop the arms embargo and has already secured support from two of the EU’s largest powers, France and Germany. A unanimous decision by the European Council is required for the embargo to be lifted and it appears there is growing consensus on this issue. Despite the Dutch Parliament strongly opposing a lift of the ban, the Netherlands Prime Minster, Mr Jan Peter Balkenende, has also recently expressed support for an end to the embargo in fear that the Netherlands may otherwise become politically isolated within the EU.

The debate within the EU is taking place despite a December 2003 European Parliament resolution stating that it was premature for the embargo to be lifted as China has yet to make significant positive developments with respect to human rights.

ICT Europe deplores the early lifting of the ban and the erroneous belief that the human rights situation in Tibet and China has significantly improved since the embargo was first imposed. ICT Europe, joined by a coalition of Tibet support groups in Europe, is calling for this EU policy to be upheld.

“The European public is not oblivious to the fact that some European governments are keen to see a resumption of arms trade with China for purely economic reasons,” said Ms. Tsering Jampa, Executive Director, International Campaign for Tibet Europe.

“France and Germany, two of the world’s largest arms exporters, are projecting a false and dangerous impression of there being a problem-free human rights situation in Tibet and China when in fact China continues to have one of the world’s worst human rights records”.

The U.S. has recently stated that it will not lift its arms sales to China embargo that is part of its Tiananmen sanctions. The U.S. has also called on the EU to maintain its arms ban.

“We believe that the U.S. and European prohibitions on arms sales are complementary, were imposed for the same reasons, specifically serious human rights abuses, and that those reasons remain valid today,” U.S. State Department spokesman, Mr. Richard Boucher, told reporters in January.

Beijing is eager for a decision before May, recognising that consensus between the EU Member States will be more difficult to achieve following the EU expansion. Many of the 10 incoming countries are heavily influenced by the U.S., and their historical experiences indicate that they would not side with China on this issue.