China (Arms Sales)

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th January 1979.

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Photo of Mr Hugh Jenkins Mr Hugh Jenkins , Wandsworth Putney 12:00 am, 17th January 1979

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what diplomatic purpose he is seeking to advance in agreeing to the sale of military equipment to China.

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Devonport

As I have made clear on previous occasions, our aim is to develop a balanced relationship with China covering the political, trade, economic, scientific, technological and cultural fields. We see the sale of some defensive equipment as a natural part of this relationship.

Photo of Mr Hugh Jenkins Mr Hugh Jenkins , Wandsworth Putney

Does my right hon. Friend take a similar view of the Soviet Union? If he does, may I ask whether he will sell Harriers to the Soviet Union, too?

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Devonport

There are major differences. The Soviet Union, in alliance with other countries, is part of a military pact—the Warsaw Pact—whose stated objectives are contrary to the national interests of this country and to which we have felt it necessary over the years—

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook , Edinburgh Central

Harriers are "defensive", not offensive.

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Devonport

Whether it be offensive or defensive, we do not sell weapons to people in organisations which threaten the security of our country and that of our closest allies.

Photo of Mr Peter Blaker Mr Peter Blaker , Blackpool South

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that close relations between the West and China are not only consistent with detente but might encourage the Soviet Union to give some meaning to detente?

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Devonport

I have always believed that there is a difficult and complicated balance to strike between having good, constructive relations on detente with the Soviet Union and, on the other hand, not rebuffing China but trying to bring it more into the international world. I include in that aim a constructive dialogue with China about detente and disarmament, which I believe is in the interests of the Soviet Union.

Photo of Mr Roderick MacFarquhar Mr Roderick MacFarquhar , Belper

Now that the Government have taken a decision on the sale of these aircraft to China, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend is able to tell the House roughly what proportion of the overall trade package which the Government hope to negotiate in February will be arms equipment?

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Devonport

The negotiations are still taking place and will he carried further when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry visits China next month. There is still a lot of detail to be gone into.

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Oxon Mid

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what representations have been received on this issue from the Soviet Union and what reply has been sent? Have the Government made it clear that pressure from this source on this subject is unwelcome and will be firmly resisted?

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Devonport

What the Government have done in reply to representations from President Brezhnev is to make clear how we see this issue. How we see it and explain it in private letters to the Soviet Union is exactly the same as we are explaining it to the House. There is no difference. I believe that it is reasonable for people to make their views felt. I do not believe that it is reasonable for any country to accept the right of another country to dictate its foreign policy. Obviously we shall not accept that.

We shall listen to the views of others, even if we disagree with them, and we shall put our view constructively within the relationship, which we have made clear we wish to maintain, of good constructive relations with the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union must recognise that detente is not a one-sided track and that it, too, has responsibilities. It ought to look at the policy of detente and at some of its actions around the world, in South-East Asia and Africa as well as in Europe.

Photo of Mr Tom Litterick Mr Tom Litterick , Birmingham, Selly Oak

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is widespread disappointment in the country over the Government's decision, yet again, to sell an advanced weapons system to a poverty-stricken nation in the Third World? Is he further aware that this policy contradicts both the spirit and the substance of the magnificent and encouraging speech made by the Prime Minister to the disarmament session of the United Nations?

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Devonport

The whole question of arms sales raises difficult issues. It would be absurd to believe that there are not occasions when selling arms buttresses and strengthens a country and can contribute to detente, to a country's security and to that country being able to feel that it can play a greater part in the world community and in world disarmament talks. A blanket ban on all arms sales would be detrimental to the cause of disarmament and arms control, which I know my hon. Friend holds dear.

Photo of Mr Jonathan Aitken Mr Jonathan Aitken , Thanet East

Is it not the case that these arms sales maintain, or help to maintain, a more adequate balance of power between China and the Soviet Union? Is this not desirable, given the fact that China, so far as we know, is not attacking Western interests in other parts of the world, whereas the Soviet Union—whatever it might be saying about detente—is definitely doing so, not least in Southern Africa?

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Devonport

One should not look at these arms sales as changing the balance of power one way or the other. One reason why one is wary of offensive arms sales is that they affect the balance of power. There are dangers in trying to, manipulate the balance of power and to determine matters in that way. If we examine the issue on its merits we should recognise that when we are requested to supply arms, in the way that has happened on a number of issues, we should bear in mind that to refuse to do so is also an act of policy which will have certain consequences, some of which I believe would be adverse.