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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 March, 2005, 09:28 GMT
EU urged to keep China arms ban
Chinese soldiers
The activists say the Chinese state remains very repressive
More than 500 Chinese human rights activists have sent an open letter to the European Union urging it not to lift its arms embargo on China.

The arms ban was imposed in 1989 after Beijing's bloody suppression of the protests in Tiananmen Square.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana says the embargo is unfair, as there has been some progress on human rights.

But the US wishes to keep the ban and the UK seems to be taking a similar stance.

Doing away [with] this sanction without corresponding improvements... would send the wrong signal
Activists' letter

The petition says the rights situation has not undergone any fundamental changes in the past 16 years.

Campaigners, including veterans of the 1989 pro-democracy protests, have signed a letter calling for the ban to stay in place and for the release of prisoners of conscience and the creation of an independent commission to investigate the events of 1989.

The Chinese state remains highly repressive, they say, despite calculated gestures to avoid international censure and economic growth has led to new patterns of rights abuses, they argue.

Ending the embargo without certain improvements in human rights would send the wrong signal to Chinese people, the letter says.

"Doing away [with] this sanction without corresponding improvements in human rights would send the wrong signal to the Chinese people... especially those of us who lost loved ones, who are persecuted," the letter says.

US sensitivities

The letter came as a British parliamentary committee warned that lifting the ban could have major trade repercussions with the US.

The US opposes ending the ban, fearing it could change the balance of military power in the region.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said at the weekend that the problems of lifting the embargo had recently become "more difficult rather than less difficult".

He said that Beijing's recent passage of a law allowing China to use military force against Taiwan if it moved towards declaring independence had created "a difficult political environment" that was complicating the lifting of the arms ban.


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