US Weapons Sales to Taiwan

– in the House of Lords at 2:51 pm on 25th April 2001.

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Photo of Baroness Williams of Crosby Baroness Williams of Crosby Liberal Democrat 2:51 pm, 25th April 2001

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What representations have been made to the United States administration with regard to the supply of advanced radar weapon systems such as Aegis to Taiwan.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

My Lords, none. This is a matter for the United States administration, which decides on weapons sales to Taiwan with reference to American law and its assessment of Taiwan's needs. We attach great importance to the avoidance of conflict in the Taiwan Straits which could be very destabilising for the whole of the region. We look to both China and Taiwan to resolve their differences peacefully through dialogue.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Crosby Baroness Williams of Crosby Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply and indicate appreciation for the restraint shown by the US administration in postponing any decision about the supply of Aegis radar systems to Taiwan at present.

First, is the Minister aware that the eight diesel submarines which are to be supplied to Taiwan are all based on European designs? Can the noble Baroness tell the House whether those European designs have been the result of consultation with the United States; and what the German and Dutch governments may have said about them?

Secondly, will the Minister and Her Majesty's Government consider making the strongest representations to the People's Republic of China about possible retaliation through the supply of missile technology to the Middle East and Pakistan, indicated in the past two days by a leading military officer in a leading think tank in Beijing?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

My Lords, we understand that by mutual agreement the United States and Taiwan do not discuss the specific decisions taken at their annual meetings on arms sales. It would not be appropriate, therefore, for me to do so now. Although I am aware of the details contained and widely discussed in the press and have noted their comments, I cannot respond, therefore, to the first part of the noble Baroness's questions. However, we see it as of crucial importance that everyone should now behave in a temperate way; that we should be very careful to do all we can to make sure that there is a rapprochement between China and Taiwan and an amelioration of any anxieties that may currently exist between the United States and China.

Photo of Lord Shore of Stepney Lord Shore of Stepney Labour

My Lords, I am sure that everyone will back the Minister in her desire to avoid conflict between China and others. However, will she also bear very much in mind that the Government of Taiwan are not now the rump of the Kuomintang. They are an elected, proper, authentic, democratic government. Will the noble Baroness further remember that in any supply of weapons to Taiwan there is no danger whatever of Taiwan committing aggression against China; and, frankly, there is every prospect of something nasty happening from the Chinese end?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

My Lords, we of course acknowledge the elections the Taiwanese held, and we were warm in our congratulations to the Taiwanese on those elections and the democratic process in that country. We bear well in mind what the noble Lord says. However, I reiterate that we must all consider how to express ourselves with moderation at this time. Ill considered words can sometimes cause more damage than good.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My Lords, further to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Shore, does the Minister accept that while the Americans are probably right on this occasion to withhold the Aegis anti-missile radar systems from the Taiwanese, they are totally justified in supplying equipment to allow the Taiwanese, who are a resourceful and dynamic people and nation, to defend themselves against violence and violent threats. That is their democratic right. That is consistent with the ethical standards which I understand Her Majesty's Government support. So could we have a little more enthusiasm from the Government Benches for the measures which are being taken to ensure that the Taiwanese are allowed to protect themselves against violence and violent attack?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

My Lords, I can reassure the noble Lord that from these Benches we fully appreciate the nature of the situation. But I reiterate that the American position is the American position. We have demonstrated the position that we take, which is moderate, well considered and balanced.

Photo of Lord Archer of Sandwell Lord Archer of Sandwell Labour

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that technologically Aegis is unlikely to be effective within the next 10 years, by which time wiser counsels may have prevailed in Washington? But can someone explain to the American Government that if they seek to protect America and her allies from nuclear attack, destabilising the non-proliferation regime is rather like looking for a gas leak with a lighted match?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

My Lords, the debate that we have just had demonstrates quite dramatically the differences of view on this. That is why we take the view that it is important to retain the balance of which I have already spoken, and to emphasise that the American situation is different from our own. Their position is governed by their legislation; ours is not. We shall continue to do everything within our power to strive to ensure that there is a de-escalation in international tension, and that we have a more balanced and stable world.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Labour

My Lords, will the Minister gently and with moderation point out to the Government of the People's Republic of China that the responsibility for increasing military tension in this area lies entirely with them for having installed between 250 and 300 missiles on their coast aimed at the cities of Taiwan? In those circumstances, are not the Taiwanese Government entitled to defend themselves from an apparent military threat, particularly when that seems to be accompanied by the People's Republic of China completely ignoring the democratically and freely expressed views of 23 million Taiwanese people in their recent elections? May it not be the case that on this occasion and on this issue the Bush administration has got the issue right?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

My Lords, I shall say for perhaps the fourth or fifth time that it is of real importance for everyone to behave with moderation. We have exhorted all sides to do so in the interests of world peace and we shall continue so to do. There is much merit in what a number of different noble Lords have said, but I think that it is evenly shared. All must do what they can.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Crosby Baroness Williams of Crosby Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I commend the Minister on the moderation and wisdom of her replies. Perhaps I may remind some of our colleagues in this House that, first, whether we like it or not, Taiwan is not a sovereign state; and, secondly, we have a substantial stake in a contained and peaceful South China region, given our relationship to Hong Kong and the restraint with which China has behaved towards the dual nation policy.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right to remind us that we do not recognise Taiwan as a state; and that we acknowledge, and have done so for a considerable period, the position of the Chinese Government that Taiwan is a province of the People's Republic of China. That is a reality for them. It is a reality for us.