Foreign Minister Tuomioja willing to consider end to EU ban on arms sales to China
Chinese Foreign Minister Li visits Finland
Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja said on Tuesday that he was looking at calls for an end to the European Union arms embargo against China "with an open mind". China’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Li Zhaoxing brought up the issue, which he sees as a relic of the Cold War, during his visit to Finland.
The ban on weapons sales to China was imposed 15 years ago.
Foreign Minister Li noted that China and Europe have established a comprehensive strategic partnership.
France has been especially keen to end to the arms embargo. Such a move has been opposed by some EU countries, the United States, and international human rights organisations.
Li said that many European countries are working to dismantle the embargo. He also said that ending the ban would not lead to any sudden surge of imports of highly-developed weapons, because China "has no need" for it.
"We are ready to consider the issue", said Foreign Minister Tuomioja.
He added that if the embargo is lifted, the EU still has a code of conduct set in 1998 governing weapons exports.
Human rights issues came up on a number of occasions during the foreign ministers’ meeting. Describing their discussions to reporters, Tuomioja said that the two were largely in agreement over all key international questions.
He said that human rights were discussed on a broad level of principle.
Tuomioja said that there were still some differences in opinion, but he believes that there has been some narrowing of the gap. He emphasised the importance of openness, and allowing the activities of international observers.
"If I had a recommendation, it would be to continue dialogue, and to expand it in the direction of non-governmental organisations. Our experience of human rights organisations is that sometimes they are critical, but that they are also an important part of the debate."
Foreign Minister Li spoke at length during the press conference, lashing out at recent efforts by the United States to pass a UN resolution denouncing China’s human rights situation.
In Li’s view, the real concern of the United States is not the human rights situation in China, but rather domestic politics and the US election year.
The draft resolution was defeated in the UN Human Rights Committee last week.
Almost every year since the crushing of the Tiananmen Square student demonstrations in 1989, the United States has pushed for a resolution condemning China’s human rights situation.
Li would not answer a question put to him by Helsingin Sanomat about whether or not a student leader who has spent 15 years in exile after the events on Tiananmen Square would be allowed to return. However, he noted that China has a population of 1.3 billion, and that instead of one or two people, it would be more appropriate to think of hundreds of millions of others.
The first question at the press conference was whether or not North Korean leader Kim Jong-il was visiting China, as some news agencies, South Korean newspapers, and the United States have claimed.
China has refused to comment on the issue, and Li did not shed any further light on it. However, the question, and the reference to the United States as the source of the information, provoked an angry reaction from Li, who suggested that the person asking it should ask the United States about it.
China has been taking a leading role in seeking a solution to the nuclear crisis with North Korea. Li said that he hopes that multilateral discussions could be held in Beijing by late June. He also said that it is in China’s interest for the Korean peninsula to be free of nuclear weapons.