China steps up appeal to end EU arms embargo

China on Thursday ratcheted up its appeal to the European Union to lift its arms embargo - one day after the bloc indicated it was leaning toward ending it - and indirectly criticized the United States for lobbying against the decision.

"I hope the European Union can demonstrate political wisdom and courage to lift the arms embargo as soon as possible," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said. "The earlier the better."

The ban was imposed after Beijing's bloody military crackdown on the 1989 pro-democracy protests centered around Tiananmen Square.

European diplomats have been moving toward ending the embargo but appeared to waver after China's legislature passed a law March 14 authorizing a military attack if Taiwan pursues formal independence.

The two sides split in 1949 amid civil war, but the Chinese mainland still claims the self-ruled island of Taiwan as its own territory.

On Wednesday, the EU's foreign policy chief said maintaining the ban was "unfair" and European leaders were leaning toward lifting it. A June deadline had been set but Javier Solana said it was unclear whether it would be met.

France and Germany have been strong proponents for lifting the ban, while Britain, Sweden and others have been less enthusiastic, citing continued human rights abuses and China's threat to Taiwan.

The United States has aggressively opposed ending the embargo, worrying that high-tech European weapons might be used against Taiwanese or U.S. forces.

At a regular news briefing, Liu appeared to make an indirect reference to Washington's strong stance.

"Some countries have fabricated excuses to prevent the lifting of the embargo," Liu said. "It is totally unreasonable. We hope they refrain from doing it."

But, he added, "we believe the lifting of the embargo will in no way undermine China-U.S relations."

China says it is unlikely to buy large amounts of European arms if the embargo is lifted, but analysts say Beijing is looking to Europe for high-tech equipment that it can't get elsewhere.

The EU supports a nonbinding code of conduct it says would help monitor exports. Officials say the code is being strengthened and should help ensure that lifting the embargo does not produce a flood of risky or destabilizing military exports to China.

AUDRA ANG Associated Press

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