European Union foreign ministers will start discussions next week on lifting an arms embargo imposed on China after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, although a decision may take some months, EU diplomats said Friday.
France, which next week hosts a visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao, has initiated efforts to end the ban but some EU states say Beijing still has not made enough progress on human rights.
“Some member states see it as anachronistic,” said a senior diplomat from the EU’s Irish presidency, referring to the ban imposed in 1989 after China sent in tanks to break weeks-long pro-democracy protests, killing hundreds.
“Others put the accent on human rights,” she added.
Diplomats say the EU states most strongly opposed to lifting the embargo are Denmark and Sweden, with the Netherlands also reluctant.
On January 26 the foreign ministers are likely to have initial talks, before asking diplomats to discuss the issue further and then returning to the matter themselves for a decision.
Asked when the EU presidency hopes for a decision, the Irish diplomat said: “I would say in the next few months, hopefully in March or April. How long depends on the complexity of the discussions.
“My sense is that the differences are narrowing,” she said.
A spokesman for the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, declined to predict the outcome of the deliberations, while echoing the signs of diplomatic movement on the issue.
“There does seem to be some shift of mood going on in the council,” the spokesman said, referring to the EU Council of Ministers.
An EU official, requesting anonymity, added: “We are enjoying a very dynamic phase in our relations with China. The last six months have seen very positive signs of where the relationship is going.
“The arms embargo was imposed after Tiananmen Square. The China it was imposed upon has changed quite a lot. The question is how far a link is going to be made with human rights,” he said.
But the Commission cautioned against prospects of an early breakthrough. “The discussion Monday will be the beginning rather than the end of the story,” said the spokesman.