The European Union's discussions on whether to lift its arms embargo on China were already complicated before the Chinese parliament voted last Sunday to use "non-peaceful" means to counter any threat to its sovereignty over the island of Taiwan. This so-called secession law will give EU foreign affairs ministers even more to consider when they discuss the embargo at the External Relations Council this week.

However, the possible lifting of the EU's longstanding ban on arms sales is less radical than it seems: moves are simultaneously underway to reinforce the EU's overlapping code of conduct limiting arms exports. The formal EU position is that even if the embargo is lifted, there should be no quantitative or qualitative increase of EU arms exports to China.

And on the Chinese side, imprecisions in the wording of the new law have been compounded by conflicting signals from China's leadership: an instruction to the military on Sunday to prepare for war was followed on Monday by words of reassurance about promoting the rapidly growing economic and cultural ties between Taiwan and the mainland. In any case, there is no novelty in the Chinese assertion of its sovereignty (which the EU has consistently recognised), nor in the threat of military action to sustain it: Taiwan has been looking...

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