Lifting arms embargo can break EU-China stalemate, says expert

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Although the EU will enter today’s (30 November) EU-China summit with a revamped outlook provided by the Lisbon Treaty, no major turning point should be expected from the meeting unless Europe commits itself to lifting its arms embargo against China, argues Stanley Crossick, founding chairman of the European Policy Centre (EPC), in an interview with EURACTIV.

Although not much should be expected from the 12th China-EU summit, which will start on 30 November in Nanjing, some improvements on climate change and the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) might be registered, Crossick anticipates. “The three difficult clauses – Taiwan, human rights and the International Criminal Court (ICC) – are still to be agreed,” the EPC founder remarks. 

Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier, has repeatedly underlined that a sea change in EU-China relations is tied to two concrete actions: the lifting of the arms embargo and the granting of market economy status (MES) to China. 

The informal meeting between Barroso and Jiabao might pave the way for an agreement in these matters “as they will be able to explore how to progress the relationship in areas not on the summit agenda,” Crossick argues, stressing that the embargo also threatens advances in discussions on the PCA. 

The attitude of the Asian giant is understandable, the analyst believes. “Listing China among a handful of embargoed pariah states is totally inconsistent with the treatment of a strategic partner,” according to the EPC director. 

The European Commission should “ask for an authoritative, independent report on the effect of the embargo and the arms code, examine what arms are currently sold to China by member states and what arms China cannot currently acquire, and make recommendations,” Crossick suggests. 

In addition, the European Union should be quick to exploit the leverage it possesses by allowing China to be classified as a market economy (MES). According to Crossick, this will happen anyway in 2015-16 and an early move by the EU would win sympathy and concessions in Beijing. 

This is also crucial when considering the mixed image that China has of Europe, he argues. “The disillusionment on Europe by young educated Chinese is particularly worrying,” Crossick notes. 

The two sides must strive to understand each other and overcome mutual distrust. “When EU and Chinese negotiators meet, it is essential that they understand how the other sees the problem and its context,” Crossick concludes. 

To read the interview in full, please click here. 

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