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EU/China: Leaders Reaffirm Blossoming 'Strategic Partnership'

Brussels, 6 May 2004 (RFE/RL) -- European Commission President Romano Prodi today hailed the current rapprochement between the European Union and China as a "permanent" strategic link.

Prodi spoke in Brussels after a long meeting this morning with Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.

"I congratulated the People's Republic of China on the strategic choice that it has made to build a partnership with Europe to promote our shared aims for peace and prosperity," Prodi said.

Prodi praised China's involvement in the Galileo global-navigation system and its support to the EU's efforts to set up the world's first nuclear-fusion facility.

Prodi said the EU would strive to step up political, economic, cultural, and social contacts with China, predicting also that the trade relationship between the two sides would grow to eclipse all other global trade links.

The EU is currently running a 55 billion euro ($66.9 billion) annual trade deficit with China, but officials in Brussels say they will not resort to appeals to the World Trade Organization to consider sanctions.

Both Prodi and Wen refrained from references today to partnerships with other countries, such as the United States or Russia.

Prodi stressed the EU's commitment to the "one China" policy ruling out formal ties with Taiwan.
China failed today to elicit a promise from the EU to drop its weapons embargo imposed in the wake of the Tiananmen massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators in 1989.

"On this specific case, me and my colleagues listened carefully to the Chinese request that the European Union lift our embargo on arms sales to China, and I explained that the issue is currently under discussion between member states," Prodi said.

While France, Belgium and Germany back the move, Britain resists -- partly in response to U.S. pleas to keep the embargo in place -- while others remain concerned about the human rights situation.

China has argued it wants the embargo lifted for predominantly symbolic reasons, describing it as obsolete. It is assumed that lifting the ban would not dramatically boost EU arms sales to China, as a bloc-wide code of conduct would still prevent most exports.

"We have also expressed our hope at these talks to President Romano Prodi and the European Commission that the Chinese government hopes the European Union will lift the arms embargo against China and will recognize China as a full market economy," Wen said. "President Romano Prodi and the European Commission both expressed their positive stance, which we appreciate."

However, China made headway on its other major goal -- that of being recognized as a market economy by the EU. Prodi said today the EU is prepared to offer China provisional recognition by the end of June -- although such a move would not have a binding impact on an eventual final decision.

Prime Minister Wen today sought to separate both the arms embargo and market economy status from considerations such as human rights.

"In resolving those two issues, from the very beginning we have not been in favor of the view that those two issues should be linked with human rights or other political issues," Wen said.

Wen said China appreciates the long-standing human rights discussion it has conducted with the EU for years. He pointed to China's recent ratification of a UN covenant on economic, cultural, and social rights. He said the adoption of a similar convention on civil and political rights is "in preparation."

Prodi today said he believes a gradual, step-by-step approach to political reform is the best way to success.

He also stressed the EU's commitment to the so-called "one China" policy ruling out formal ties with Taiwan. China has made clear that compliance with the policy is a crucial precondition for closer links.

Both sides today also discussed the effects of the recent EU enlargement. Prodi said he was certain EU investment in China would not fall. Wen, for his part, said the size of the Chinese market and its labor force were "irreplaceable."

Wen also said China would not "unpeg" its national currency from the U.S. dollar before a "proper macroeconomic situation" has been achieved and a "prudent" banking system is in place in China. The United States, among others, has argued the peg gives China an unfair trading advantage by keeping its currency artificially cheap.