Europe’s willingness to take directions from other world powers is “pitiful” and “pathetic” China’s top man in Brussels has said.
The remarks by Chinese ambassador Song Zhe come as a leaked US diplomatic cable revealed that Washington quickly swung into action earlier this year when the Spanish EU presidency suggested the Union should lift its arms embargo with China.
“This is an action request for all [US] Embassies in EU countries to reiterate our position that the EU should retain its arms embargo on China,” said the cable, dated 17 February 2010 and signed “Clinton” referring to secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
In a cable from two weeks earlier, an EU official said that an end to the bloc’s arms embargo would be beneficial for Sino-EU relations but that it is unlikely to come about because of the negative “consequences” that would flow from Washington.
“The EU and China are now strategic partners and it doesn’t make any sense to maintain the embargo … I also think it is pitiful and pathetic that Europe can’t make decisions on its own, without being influenced by other powers,” China’s Mr Song told a small group of journalists in Brussels on Wednesday (15 December). He added that the bloc’s subservience leads many to believe that it is weak.
The senior diplomat, who has lived in the EU capital for three years, was speaking generally and did not wish to be drawn on the leaked cables.
The EU halted arms sales to China following the violent suppression of protestors in Tiananmen Square in 1989. An initiative to lift the embargo in 2004-2005 foundered in the face of considerable member state opposition, despite support from France and Germany at the time. The second cable cited above notes that Spain created confusion earlier this year by speaking out against the ban despite having no EU mandate to do so. “This is the Spanish talking and seeking advantage at other EU states’ expense,” the EU official in the cable explained.
Pro-sanctions capitals say that China is still embroiled in a dangerous frozen conflict with Taiwan and has a bad human rights record in, for example, Tibet.
The Chinese ambassador sees ending the embargo as a largely symbolic gesture, however. “With it [the trade ban] we will develop our own arms even faster,” he said. “So at the end of the day it is the [arms] companies in Europe that are loosing out.”
The Nobel Prize and human rights
One reason given by US secretary of state Hillary Clinton for Europe not to lift its embargo is the harsh treatment meted out to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, according to the Clinton cable.
Mr Liu is currently serving a prison sentence in China and was last week awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in absentia amid Chinese diplomatic efforts to stop EU countries going to the awards gala. Media reports this week suggest that Beijing has set up cells of anti-Nobel propagandists in their foreign embassies, charged with discrediting the Norwegian Nobel committee and others who speak well of Mr Liu.
Beijing sentenced the Chinese intellectual to 11 years jail in December 2009 for “state subversion” after he co-authored a document calling for political reform in China.
Ambassador Song said that reform is gradually happening but that Beijing’s top priority is providing basic services to the masses and pointed to the 150 million Chinese citizens who have been lifted out of poverty in recent years.
“When we talk about human rights we should bear in mind the history and development of China,” he said. “Without stability the economy will not be able to grow, and without growth living standards will not rise.”
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