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Ministerial Visits

Volume 451: debated on Wednesday 1 November 2006

As the House may be aware, during my 10-day visit to the far east, I met a number of senior Asian leaders on behalf of the Prime Minister. These included the Prime Ministers of Japan and South Korea, the Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, the Foreign Secretary Ban Ki-Moon—the United Nations Secretary-General designate—State Councillor Tang, who is the co-chairman of the China taskforce set up by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and Premier Wen of China. The House will be aware that State Councillor Tang is also China’s special envoy on North Korea, and I spent three hours with him discussing North Korea and other interests.

The main outcomes of my visit were: to confirm our support for the United Nations resolution and encourage the resumption of the six-party talks; to support and strengthen the UK’s political and economic relationships with these countries; to meet senior members of the new Administration in Japan; to exchange ideas on areas of common interest and concern, including the environment, security and inter-faith issues; and to agree a future programme of work for the UK-China taskforce.

Will my right hon. Friend say a little more about his conversations in China and South Korea about North Korea? Does he feel that China is ready to step up to the plate and take the lead on that matter?

The House will welcome yesterday’s statement that the Chinese Government have successfully persuaded North Korea and America to reconvene at the six-party talks. The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) has made the Opposition’s view clear in calling for tougher United Nations sanctions to get North Korea to participate in the talks. However, North Korea has now agreed to do so without the need for that pressure, which we supported. I hope that the discussions that I had in Japan, South Korea and China will help to press home the Government’s position, supported by the Opposition, that we support the United Nations resolution and that the six-party talks should begin. We look forward to that happening.

During the Deputy Prime Minister’s visit, what impression did he get of Chinese attitudes towards the North Korean President Kim Il Sung?

Without disclosing any confidential discussions that I had, which I have conveyed to the Prime Minister, I think that it is public knowledge that the Chinese were not happy with the announcement that was made, of which they had very little notice. The hon. Gentleman must accept, however, that China played a major part in doing what the whole international community wanted—namely, bringing pressure to bear to get North Korea to the table so that the six-party talks could continue. The whole House should welcome that—[Interruption.]

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the proposed major Chinese investment in the borough of Wigan. Did he discuss this matter with representatives of the Chinese Government during his visit? Will he use his best endeavours to ensure that there are no blockages at the UK end to this important investment in Wigan?

My hon. Friend knows that I take every opportunity to press the case for British investment in China and, indeed, for Chinese investment in the United Kingdom. There was a great deal of discussion about how we can improve that. Indeed, the subject is one of the major items for the China taskforce, which I chair with State Councillor Tang on behalf of the two Prime Ministers.

As the Government intend to tax the public to the hilt in their efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, will the Deputy Prime Minister make a commitment to reduce foreign travel to support the green agenda?

If the hon. Lady knew anything about these global problems, which require global solutions, she would know that Members of Parliament have to travel to different countries to negotiate the agreements involved. The Government have a scheme under which all such travel will be taken into account, credited and used as part of the carbon agreements.