China premier Wen Jiabao urges end to EU arms embargo

Wen Jiabao: "The solution has been elusive. I deeply regret this"

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China's premier Wen Jiabao has urged the EU to lift its arms embargo on Beijing, at his last EU-China summit before handing over power this year.

Speaking in Brussels, Mr Wen said "the solution has been elusive over the past 10 years. I deeply regret this".

The EU embargo was imposed after the violent suppression of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.

EU sources, quoted ahead of the summit, said "we have agreed to disagree" with China on the issue.

Mr Wen also mentioned the EU's refusal to treat China as a fully-fledged market economy, which is preventing Brussels from lifting its tariffs on Chinese goods.

His one-day talks in Brussels with senior EU figures, including European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, focused on a range of other economic issues.

China clinched a deal to work with the EU to cut greenhouse gases and move to a low-carbon economy, the European Commission said in a statement.

Analysis

EU officials argue that disputes with China - on trade, human rights or other issues - should be set in the context of one of the largest and most complex economic relationships in the world.

They're right - bilateral trade was worth nearly 430bn euros last year. It's absolutely vital to both sides.

But it's also worth remembering what different political cultures come together in meetings like this. A planned press conference was cancelled after the EU refused a Chinese request to have a right of veto over which journalists attended.

And Wen Jiabao's valedictory speech certainly spoke of huge progress over the last 10 years, but its most forceful passage was a complaint about the EU arms embargo against China.

China wants the embargo lifted - Mr Wen said the EU should do more to resolve the issue. But there is no mood among EU member states to do that any time soon.

In a separate development, a traditional news conference to close the summit was cancelled after the two sides failed to agree its terms.

The Chinese reportedly wanted only officially approved reporters to attend the event.

Despite the criticism, Mr Wen is seen as having played a key role in building Chinese-EU relations.

Bilateral trade has more than quadrupled under his nine-year premiership. The EU is now China's largest export market and the world's second-largest exporter to China.

The two sides agreed to intensify co-operation aimed at "restoring market confidence and fostering financial stability", the joint statement said.

'Consolidating relations'

On Thursday, Mr Wen mentioned a number of achievements over the past 10 years in EU-China relations, but then complained about the arms embargo and the tariffs.

"I have to be very frank in saying this... I deeply regret this and I hope the EU side will take greater initiative to solve these issues," he said.

Beijing has in the past described the arms embargo as a "relic of the cold war".

The ban - that limits high-technology sales to China which could have a dual military use - forces China to invest more in its own military research and development.

An undated picture what is reported to be a Chinese J-20 stealth fighter in flight in Chengdu, Sichuan province The arms ban forces China to invest more in its own military research

France and Italy has called for a lifting of the ban, but other EU countries have been more divided on the issue.

The US opposes a lifting of the ban, citing China's human rights record as well as concerns that it will upset the delicate balance of relations between China and Taiwan.

There have also been trade disputes between the partners - such as a recent EU decision to investigate allegations that Chinese manufacturers are dumping solar panels by selling them at below market value.

But EU officials believe these disputes must be seen in the context of a broad and growing economic relationship, says the BBC's Chris Morris in Brussels.

The Chinese government has also repeatedly expressed concern about Europe's faltering economy, which continues to struggle through a eurozone debt crisis.

There had been hopes that China would invest some $3tn (2.3tn euros; £1.85tn) of its foreign exchange reserves in European bailout funds - although pressure has now been eased by a European Central Bank decision to buy up government bonds.

In this context, the BBC's Chris Morris in Brussels says this summit was all about consolidating relations rather than taking big decisions.

Europe's leaders, he says, have their eye on China's leadership change, which only happens once every decade and could bring new challenges in relations between these major economic powers.

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