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China, EU forge closer ties

China and the European Union, meeting yesterday in the Hague, pledged to boost relations while signing more than a dozen cooperation agreements.

Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, whose country holds the EU presidency, said he told his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao that Europe would consider ending its 15-year-old embargo on arms sales in the future.

He said the EU was also considering tightening its "code of conduct" for arms sales, which proponents see as a safety net.

Balkenende and Wen met for almost three hours after which the two parties signed agreements calling for closer cooperation in science and technology, customs and student exchanges.

They also signed a declaration committing to the nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
EU and Chinese officials said their meeting underscored the phenomenal growth in two-way trade that rocketed to 150 billion euros (US$202.5 billion) last year, double the 1999 figure.

In 1980, China ranked 25th on the EU's list of most important trade partners. This year it is the EU's second most important partner, after the United States, according to EU figures.

Speaking at a joint news conference with Balkenende, Wen acknowledged that differences on human rights and the arms ban weigh on the EU-China relationship.

He added, "That does not frighten us. It does not prevent us from having a bilateral relationship."
Still, Wen called the arms ban "political discrimination" and an outdated "product of the Cold War." Lifting the embargo does not mean China would start buying lots of arms from the EU, he said.

Speaking at a meeting with EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on Tuesday, Wen said promoting Sino-European relations would help stabilize relations among major powers and was beneficial to their cooperation.

"Widening and deepening Sino-European cooperation would benefit not only the two sides but also the whole world," said Wen, who arrived earlier in the day to attend the 7th China-EU summit aimed at strengthening the comprehensive China-EU partnership.

Wen voiced the hope that China and the EU would grasp the opportunity to advance bilateral ties, saying the two sides should look upon Sino-European relations from a strategic and long-term perspective.

"This is our common task and responsibility," Wen stressed.

Barroso said all the EU member states supported the development of comprehensive strategic ties between the EU and China, and attached great importance to the cooperation achievements made by the two sides in various fields over the past years.

He added that together with China, the EU under his leadership would further promote the friendly ties between the EU and China on the basis of consolidating what had been achieved.
Today Wen is to meet with European business leaders and visit the European Space Agency.

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