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Chinese Foreign Minister

Volume 126: debated on Monday 1 February 1988

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8.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he next plans to meet the Chinese Foreign Minister.

As I said in the House on 20 January, I look forward to welcoming Mr. Wu Xuegian on an official visit to Britain in the spring.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that many people will warmly welcome the scholarship programme, which will bring some 2,000 Chinese students to Britain, because they will presumably play their part in the modernisation of China when they return and possibly improve contacts and ties between British business and China, which would be extremely beneficial to both countries?

Yes. I agree with my hon. Friend. It is encouraging that there are 2,000 Chinese students in Britain today compared with 1,600 last year. Some 800 of the 2,000 receive funding from the Government. That itself is almost a doubling of what applied last year. It will help us to sustain the growth in exports to China, which have increased from £180 million in 1983 to £536 million in 1986. It will be part of an expanding trade relationship which will be fruitful in other ways as well.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware of the vile trade in endangered species between China and Hong Kong? The centres in China appear to be the Dongmen market in Canton and Shenzhen, which forms a border between China and Hong Kong. The animals are used for food—they are eaten in restaurants in Hong Kong. Will the Foreign Secretary make the strongest representations to the Chinese Foreign Minister when they meet so that such trade can be stamped out once and for all?

I am well aware of the hon. Member's interest in this important subject. It is a matter on which Hong Kong and China have strict laws presently in force. We have drawn to the attention of the Chinese authorities concerns such as those expressed by the hon. Gentleman. We have asked Hong Kong to review its efforts to see whether enforcement can be made more effective. It is already considering proposals to strengthen its arrangements.

I welcome the close relationship that has been established between the two Governments and between my right hon. and learned Friend and Mr. Wu. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the best interests of the people of Hong Kong are undoubtedly sustained by the closest possible relationship being maintained between the two Governments? Regarding the clamour from some quarters in Hong Kong for early direct elections, will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that it is his understanding of the Chinese Government's view that it makes sense to put the Basic Law in place before embarking on constitutional adventures?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his reminder of the importance of good relations between the United Kingdom and China for the future of Hong Kong. That goes without saying. It is also right to acknowledge that the People's Republic of China has taken a more cautious view of the prospect of direct elections than has been taken in other places. Elections will be part of the constitution of the special administrative region in due course. It is on that basis that the topic was discussed in the House a week or two ago. On most issues, there was a large measure of agreement on the importance of moving to direct elections. The timing of the introduction of direct elections was the topic on which opinions still seemed to be divided.

When the Foreign Secretary meets his Chinese counterpart, will he raise the question of the continuation of the then existing legislative bodies in Hong Kong through the period of the handover? In particular, will he seek clarification of a statement made last week by Li Hou, the deputy director of the Hong Kong Office and secretary general of the Basic Law drafting committee, to the effect that the Chinese Government would not just be making a symbolic gesture in exercising its sovereignty after the handover? Many people in Hong Kong fear that this means that a new Legislative Council will be appointed on 1 July 1997. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that this would not be in accordance with the smooth transition called for in the joint declaration? Does he intend to make a statement to the House after the publication of the White Paper on democracy in Hong Kong next week?

On the last point, I must point out that the House has only recently had an opportunity to debate this subject quite fully. The White Paper will be published shortly, and we shall have to see whether there is a case for a separate statement. I would have thought that it would be more likely for the House to want to have an opportunity to study the White Paper closely first. As to the statement attributed to Mr. Li Hou, I do not think that I should be required to answer for each interpretation that the hon. Gentleman chooses to put on every observation made by Chinese spokesmen. The commitment of both states in the joint declaration is to the establishment of democratic arrangements in the terms set out. The commitment is also to the highest degree of continuity through this period of changeover in 1997. That is the centrally important feature.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend take the opportunity of his meeting with the Chinese Foreign Minister to explore China's relations with other countries in the sensitive area around it, and in particular the question whether Chinese relations with South Korea can be put on a more positive footing, given the evidence which appears to show that North Korea has been practising institutionalised terrorism?

I take the importance of the point referred to in the last part of my hon. Friend's question. We have condemned the part played by the North Korean Government in the recent destruction of a South Korean aircraft. I have no doubt that, in the course of my discussion of international relations with the Chinese Foreign Minister, relations within the peninsular of Korea will be one of the topics on which we shall touch.