Richard North, 03/02/2005  

Heedless of US concerns, the EU is continuing on the path of lifting the arms embargo on China, with the Financial Times reporting that it is putting final touches to its "code of conduct" on arms exports, that will replace the existing controls.

The key to this code – which is widely regarded as a "fig-leaf", not least because it is not legally binding – is a supposedly "more transparent" export system, something which France was originally opposed to.

This is still regarded by the US as inadequate, the main provisions of the code remaining virtually unchanged since it was first unveiled last year.

Condoleezza Rice, having already sounded warnings against lifting the embargo, is due to travel to Europe next week, when the issue will most certainly be raised.

Nevertheless, EU is maintaining its stance that lifting the embargo will have limited practical effect, and is merely a "symbolic move" in keeping with the growing partnership between Europe and China.

The whole issue, however, is now broadening out, with the US anxious to discuss with the EU member states the vital strategic issue of technology transfer. A series of confidential consultations is under consideration, involving a "what bothers you" list of proscribed weapons and technologies.

But what is hampering negotiations is US incredulity over the pledge by leaders at a Brussels European Council in December, that "the result of any decision [on the embargo] should not be an increase of arms exports from EU member states to China, neither in quantitative nor qualitative terms".

After all, if there is no intention to increase arms sales to China, why is the EU so keen to lift the embargo, they wonder.

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