HC Deb 23 May 1978 vol 950 cc1317-8
8. Mr. Clemitson

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what plans the British Defence Sales Organisation has for promoting arms sales to China.

Mr. Mulley

The British Defence Sales Organisation is ready to respond to Chinese interest in British defence equipment, taking into account the usual political, strategic and economic criteria and our international obligations.

Mr. Clemitson

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the Conservative Opposition have no monopoly of opposition to the totalitarian ways of the Soviet authorities? Does he agree that it would be very foolish to cultivate the friendship of China merely as part of a crude anti-Soviet policy? Will he therefore think very carefully before the sale of arms to China is either promoted or authorised?

Mr. Mulley

I can certainly give my hon. Friend the assurance that no authority will be given without the most careful consideration. As my hon. Friend knows, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has already made clear that while we desire and seek to improve our relations with China we do not wish to do so at the expense of worsening our relations with the Soviet Union.

Mr. Churchill

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Government do not see the People's Republic of China as either a hostile or potentially hostile country? Will he confirm that there is no bar to the sales of British defence equipment.

Mr. Mulley

As I have said, no decisions on this matter have been taken. In fact, there have been no firm indications of which equipment is wanted. Everyone assumes that it is the Harrier that is likely to be wanted by China, but I have no reason to think that that is necessarily the case. China has given no firm indications of what it might be interested in. As no decisions have been taken, I cannot announce them.

Mr. Litterick

Does my right hon. Friend agree that he has no way of knowing how a customer State is likely to use any military equipment supplied by us to it? For instance, no one knows that it would not be used for an oppressive purpose. Is my right hon. Friend aware, for example, that British armoured vehicles were used to suppress the recent demonstrations in Tabriz, in Iran?

Mr. Mulley

Whatever view may be taken about the sale of arms to China, somehow I do not feel that that would have a bearing on my hon. Friend's present concern.