Thursday, 28 April 2005
The Government's position on the lifting of the EU arms embargo on arms sales to China is clear. We support the lifting of the embargo but do not wish to see any increase in the quantity or quality of arms exports to China.
The arms embargo was first introduced in 1989 in reaction to the events of Tiananmen Square. There was no EU arms embargo against China before 1989. China today is a very different society than it was in 1989. It is unquestionably a freer society, even if respect for fundamental human rights is still significantly less than we would wish.
China has asked the EU to lift the embargo. It argues, rightly in my view, that it does not belong among the category of rogue states, including Burma, Sudan and Zimbabwe, against which the EU also maintains an arms embargo.
China states that it regards the lifting of the embargo as a symbolic gesture and that it does not regard it as an excuse to increase arms imports from the EU. The Government's approach is therefore that the Union should lift the formal embargo, while at the same time taking care to ensure there is no increase in EU arms exports to China. Our position was set out by the Taoiseach during his visit to Beijing in January 2005, when he also explained the importance to the EU of continued progress in the promotion and protection of human rights in China.
The European Council meeting in December 2004 reaffirmed its political will to continue to work towards lifting the arms embargo. It invited the incoming Luxembourg Presidency to finalise the well-advanced work on this issue in order to allow for a decision, while underlining that the result of any decision should not be an increase in arms exports from EU member states to China.
The Council also recalled the importance of the EU code of conduct on arms exports, which has been in operation since 1998 and contains criteria for assessing such exports, including those relating to human rights, stability and security in the relevant region and the national security of friendly countries. The Council stressed the importance of the early adoption of a revised code of conduct, on which work is continuing and which will reinforce existing EU controls, and of a new instrument on arms exports known as the "Toolbox". This instrument is being developed by the EU and comprises a set of measures which may be applied to a country when an arms embargo against it has been lifted. Essentially, it will provide for a greater level of information sharing and enhanced transparency within the EU regarding arms exports to countries which had been subject to an arms embargo.
As the EU works towards lifting the arms embargo, it has also engaged in recent weeks in a dialogue on the issue at senior official level with key partners, including the USA, Japan, the Republic of Korea and Australia. EU Foreign Ministers reiterated their wish to develop further the relationship with China when they met for an informal discussion in Luxembourg on 15 and 16 April. The importance attached by the Union to human rights and the peaceful resolution of differences was reiterated in this context. The Ministers also agreed to continue to work on strengthening the code of conduct and on the so-called "Toolbox", in line with the European Council mandate.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House.
The Government continues to examine this issue with our EU partners in the context of our overall relationship with China, our ongoing commitment to human rights and the broader regional and international context. EU Ministers will resume consideration of a decision on lifting the embargo once technical work on revising the EU code of conduct on arms exports has been completed. A decision to lift the embargo will require unanimous approval among member states.
I am surprised at the Minister's response given that this week, the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of not lifting the embargo. I remind the Minister of China's human rights record whereby of 5,000 executions carried out globally last year, 4,000 took place in China. I also remind him of the anti-secession act passed in the Chinese Parliament recently which effectively threatened the future of Taiwan and has raised tensions in the Taiwan Straits. I also remind him of the recommendations of the European Parliament report which stated that while there may have been great progress in industrial development in China, its record in human rights and democracy still needs much improvement. It is still in the dark ages. Does the Minister agree that the sale of arms to China will enable it to use its anti-democratic system to threaten Taiwan and undermine democracy in that part of the world?
I agree with much of what Deputy Allen said. We are aware of the situation. However, one must take China's population, the biggest population of any nationality in the world, into account. One takes the progress that has been made over the years and the European Union's attitude into account. Some progress has been made in China, although not as much as we would like. We are fully mindful of the Taiwanese situation and of the recent decision taken by the Chinese. Ultimately however, the Deputy should understand that there will be a consensual decision taken on the issue within the European Union. Whenever the decision is taken, it must be unanimous. It will be taken in a positive, responsible and measured manner to ensure that all the issues raised by Deputy Allen and many others he did not will be taken into account. Given our overall position on human rights internationally and nationally as a sovereign State and our role within the European Union, I am confident we will ensure the best decision possible is taken at the appropriate time.
How does the Minister reconcile his earlier statement with the European Union code of conduct for arms exports published in 1998 which stated the European Union should not issue an export licence, unless the reservations and worries about human rights records were set aside?
The code of conduct was introduced in 1998. Recent discussions within the European Union referred to the code of conduct in a very assertive manner in order to bring the associated responsibilities to the notice of all members states. Irrespective of whatever decision is taken, the code of conduct must be sustained and maintained and will always be operable.