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Last Updated: Friday, 7 May, 2004, 00:46 GMT 01:46 UK
China calls for end to arms ban
By John Moylan
Europe business reporter

Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has called on the European Union to lift restrictions on arms sales to China.

Mr Wen was making his first official visit to the headquarters of the European Union in Brussels.

He called on the EU to confirm market economy status on China - a move that would recognise the maturity of the country's business environment.

A series of agreements were also rubber-stamped which will strengthen co-operation between the two regions.

Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao
This was Wen Jiabao's first official visit to Brussels
"If not a marriage, then at least a very serious relationship" - that was European Commission President Romano Prodi's upbeat assessment of the strength of the ties now between the EU and China.

But Mr Prodi was less forthcoming about one of China's key goals - the lifting of the arms embargo which was imposed by the EU following the Tiananmen Square clampdown in 1989.

China covets the technical and military know-how and the international respectability that the ending of the embargo would bring. But European nations are divided on the issue; the Commission would only say that it is under review.

There was better news on China's goal to achieve full market economy status with the EU. That is a technical milestone that recognises the independence of businesses from government interference.

Mr Prodi said a preliminary assessment would be made at the end of next month.

The visit also saw the signing of a number of agreements between the two regions. The most important is a new deal for closer customs co-operation which should dent the billions of dollars Western firms say are lost each year due to pirated or counterfeit goods made in China.

The BBC's John Moylan reports from Brussels
"Behind the scenes, tensions remain"


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