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China (Vice-Premier's Visit)

Volume 958: debated on Tuesday 21 November 1978

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asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he met Vice-Premier Wang Chen during his recent visit.

I held no formal meeting with Vice-Premier Wang Chen, but I met him informally on two occasions.

In view of the answers that my right hon. Friend has already given about consultations with allies on the selling of Harriers that Vice-Premier Wang Chen requested, is he aware that United States Government officials have stated that they see no reason for discussions not taking place within COCOM? Will he, therefore, consider consulting the United States on a bilateral basis and not going through the whole formal procedure?

These are matters for consideration, but, as my hon. Friend knows, the conduct of these international arrangements is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. It is not simply a bilateral matter between ourselves and the United States. Many other countries are involved in the COCOM arrangements.

How many extra jobs will be created if the Chinese requirements for Harriers are met?

Until full contractual arrangements as to the time scale and the numbers are concluded, I do not think that a precise answer could be given to a question of that sort.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the new-found enthusiasm of the Tories to arm Communist China has a certain piquant interest? If, as is very likely, there is a rapprochement between the Soviet Union and the developing new politicos in China, does he think that the Tories' interest will continue to be the same as it is now?

My hon. Friend asks me a very difficult and almost impossible question. The turns of Opposition policy are so fast that I would hesitate to predict so far ahead.

Is the right hon. Gentleman seriously telling the House that the Government were surprised by the Chinese desire to buy Harriers? If not, why have not the consultations with other Governments taken place before the Chinese visit?

I do not think that anyone is surprised. What might have been of some surprise to other people is that the purpose of the Vice-President's visit was far wider than defence equipment. A very satisfactory agreement, covering a range of industrial equipment, was concluded at the end if his visit. The Government were not surprised that a request was made about Harrier, but one cannot consult allies until one has some idea of the size and character of the request, and, as I have indicated, that come only very recently.