France pushes lifting of China arms embargo

16th February 2005, Comments 0 comments

LONDON, Feb 16 (AFP) - The end of an EU arms embargo on China could slow a push by Beijing to develop its own advanced weapons, which would otherwise happen in five years with or without outside help, France's defence minister said in an interview published in Britain's Financial Times on Wednesday.

LONDON, Feb 16 (AFP) - The end of an EU arms embargo on China could slow a push by Beijing to develop its own advanced weapons, which would otherwise happen in five years with or without outside help, France's defence minister said in an interview published in Britain's Financial Times on Wednesday.

While insisting Paris had strict controls to stop most lethal technologies passing into Chinese hands, Michele Alliot-Marie said: "The lifting of the embargo could be a better protection for us than maintaining it."

An EU plan to ditch the 15-year ban has triggered concerns in the United States, which is worried that China would gain access to cutting-edge European technology to upset the balance in a region that is home to thousands of US troops and where Taiwan remains vulnerable to attack from its giant rival.

But Alliot-Marie argued in the interview also published in French economic daily Les Echos that the country would soon be able to develop such technology itself, regardless.

"China is rapidly developing its industry, and today our experts say that in five years China could make exactly the same arms that we have today," France's first female defence minister told the British newspaper.

"And they will do it if they cannot import," she said.

"So maybe if we can sell them the arms, they will not make them. And in five years' time they will not have the technology to make them."

Her comments come as Washington and Paris try to mend a transatlantic rift caused by the US-led war in Iraq, which France opposed.

US President George Bush is due to visit Europe next week and the arms ban issue is expected to feature high up on his agenda, the Financial Times said.

Last week, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, on a brief trip to Brussels, stressed her concern about the EU embargo plans but said both sides were united in wanting to pull Beijing into the international fold.

Alliot-Marie said that lifting the embargo - a move that could happen in the coming months - would help to reintegrate China into the international community. But this prospect has also alarmed Washington due to concerns about human rights issues.

Turning to the sometimes strained ties between France and the United States, the minister called them "the foundation of the transatlantic relationship" and said that even Iraq had become a place were views were converging.

"I think that the US administration understands that our position is not against them and they are confident when we say that nobody has any interest in a crisis in Iraq," she told the Financial Times and its sister paper Les Echos.

"When countries like France or Germany are helping the training of Iraqi troops, or gendarmes, they consider that it is also a real help to rebuilding Iraq," she said.

As for Iran, another sensitive topic between Washington and Europe, Alliot-Marie said she thought the Bush administration was confident about the EU's will to stop Tehran from developing nuclear weapons.

But she added: "Maybe they think that our methods are not hard enough."

© AFP

Subject: French News

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