HC Deb 14 February 1955 vol 537 cc28-32

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

76. Mr. Lewis

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs on what date he received, via the British Ambassador in Moscow, the proposal of the Soviet Government that joint discussions should take place outside the United Nations with representatives of the Governments concerned, other than Nationalist China, on the Formosa situation; and what was the nature of his reply.

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Sir Anthony Eden)

I will, with permission, answer Question No. 76.

On 2nd February, I asked the Soviet Chargé d'Affaires to call and informed him that, since we both appeared to be agreed on the seriousness of the situation, I hoped that the Soviet Government would use their influence to persuade the Chinese Government to attend the discussion at the Security Council. Immediately thereafter the Chinese Government refused to attend the Security Council in, it will be recalled, abrupt terms.

On 4th February, the Soviet Minister for Foreign Affairs sent for Her Majesty's Ambassador and made a proposal that, since the position of the Chinese Government would make discussion in the Security Council impossible, a conference should be called this month in Shanghai or New Delhi to consider the position which had arisen in the area of Formosa and the Chinese coastal islands. It was suggested that the conference should consist of the United Kingdom, the United States, the U.S.S.R., France, the Central People's Government of China, India, Burma, Indonesia, Pakistan and Ceylon. Mr. Molotov informed Sir William Hayter that this proposal was to be regarded as confidential like my own approach to the Soviet Charge d'Affaires.

Her Majesty's Government have given this proposal careful examination. It was discussed with the Commonwealth Prime Ministers in London and the United States Government were informed. On 9th February, Her Majesty's Ambassador presented to the Soviet Government the preliminary observations of Her Majesty's Government. Our first comment related to the composition of the conference, which, as proposed by Mr. Molotov, did not appear to be representative. In particular, we noted that the Chinese Nationalist authorities in Formosa were to be excluded. Her Majesty's Government were convinced that a conference that did not include both of the two parties most directly concerned could not have a useful result.

Our second comment was that the position of the United Nations should not be overlooked. In the opinion of Her Majesty's Government, it was desirable that any meeting for the discussion of the situation in the area of the coastal islands and Formosa should be organised in a form acceptable to the United Nations.

Finally, Her Majesty's Government stressed once more their earnest hope that all concerned would continue to use their best endeavours to stop the fighting in the area and to reduce the risk of incidents which might have serious consequences. Her Majesty's Government asked for the views of the Soviet Government on these points and their reply has not yet been received.

Mr. Lewis

I thank the Foreign Secretary for answering that Question. May I ask him whether, while appreciating and regretting the abrupt manner in which the Chinese Republic made that reply, the fact that they feel, rightly or wrongly, that it is their rightful place to be in the United Nations if it is their rightful place to be in the Security Council, may possibly have been the reason for their rather abrupt reply? Will he not use every endeavour to try to secure, if possible, the admission of the Chinese People's Government of Peking into the United Nations and not merely the Security Council, as that might help to assist him to resolve this difficult problem?

Sir A. Eden

The hon. Gentleman, I am sure, knows the problem that exists in that matter. I think that I have given a very full account of the exchanges which we had with the Soviet Government about the present position. Those exchanges are not yet closed and, when I am in a position to do so, I will, of course, make a further report to the House.

Mr. Foot

Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that it would assist in getting a meeting, in whatever form it is possible, if the authorities in Formosa could be dissuaded from announcing to the world that their intention is to invade the mainland of China, and can he say whether the British Government have made representations to the United States Government on this particular subject?

Sir A. Eden

We have no kind of responsibility of any sort for the statements made by the authorities in Formosa, as the hon. Gentleman will be aware. We would certainly not like to be thought to be always in agreement with them.

Mr. Royle

Does the Foreign Secretary think that it would be possible to accept the Soviet suggestion now in the hope that the Chinese Nationalists might come into conference at a later stage?

Sir A. Eden

I think that the whole House will understand that if we are to make any progress at all with this problem of a conference—and I am by no means convinced that that is the best way to make progress in the present circumstances—but if it were, we must have both parties there, even if they do not talk to each other very much. After all, we have had experience of that sort of thing before.

Mr. Beswick

Would the right hon. Gentleman not agree that it is at least as realistic to hold a conference with the People's Government of China and to exclude the Formosan authorities, as it is to have a United Nations organisation which excludes the largest single nation in the world?

Sir A. Eden

It is for that very reason that the Security Council addressed this invitation to the Chinese Communist Government to ask them to attend and take part in those discussions.

Sir R. Boothby

While I am in complete agreement with the actions and attitude of the Foreign Secretary, may I ask him whether it is not a fact that at the present time neither the Chinese People's Republic nor the Chiang Kai-shek régime have sovereignty over the island of Formosa? It is vested in neither.

Sir A. Eden

I do not think that I had better try to embroider the statement which I made some 10 days ago, and which has already given the legal authorities in all parts of the world quite a lot to say.

Mr. S. Silveman

Will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear to the Soviet Government that he is not opposed in principle to the holding of such a conference as they have suggested? Will he not bear in mind that it makes all the difference whether, when one is asking a question, the people one is asking believe that one wants information in the answer, or whether they believe that it is merely a device in order to avoid the necessity of giving a plain "yes" or "no"?

Sir A. Eden

It would be interesting to know exactly what was in the mind of the Soviet Government when they asked the original question, would it not?

Mr. Foot

Reverting to the reply which the right hon. Gentleman gave to me a moment ago, I would point out that I am not suggesting, of course, that he is responsible for anything said by the Chiang Kai-shek authorities, but since the statement of Chiang Kai-shek was that his intention was to invade the mainland and that was the purpose of the withdrawal from the Tachen Islands, and he has now repeated that he is going to defend Quemoy; and since it is only a day or two ago that a treaty was signed between those authorities and the United States Government, can he say whether he has made representation to the United States Government on this matter, asking them to restrain Chiang Kai-shek from making any such statements?

Sir A. Eden

I have certainly not made any representation on the latest statement because I have not had the full text. I hear that one has been made this afternoon. What I am dealing with—and I think that the House would agree that I have dealt with it very fully—is our exchange with the Soviet Union about a conference. If there are any other questions, I will gladly answer them if they are put down.

Mr. Stokes

When the right hon. Gentleman is engaged in negotiations with Far Eastern potentates, has he not thought that much that has been said by Chiang Kai-shek and his associates may have a great deal to do with what in the Far East is known as "face"?

Sir A. Eden

I think that applies to what has been said by both sides.