HC Deb 22 November 1978 vol 958 cc1241-3
6. Mr. Thorne

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he intends to talk with the Foreign Secretaries of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and China regarding improving Anglo-Soviet-Chinese relations.

Dr. Owen

I discussed British-Soviet relations with the Soviet Foreign Minister in New York on 25th September, and British-Chinese relations with the Chinese Foreign Minister during his visit to Britain in October.

Mr. Thorne

I recognise my right hon. Friend's preference for peace instead of war, but will he confirm that the old imperial policies of divide and rule no longer dominate his Department? Will he make a special initiative to establish good Soviet-Chinese relations in order to improve East-West relations?

Dr. Owen

I agree with my hon. Friend. Good Soviet-Chinese relations are of crucial importance to the world. One of the problems has been the absence of any dialogue between the two countries for some years now. I hope that we shall see China taking a place in the committee on disarmament which has newly been formed. I hope that the Chinese will start, as they are starting in the United Nations and other international forums, to take a part and that that will extend into a dialogue between themselves and the Soviet Union.

Mr. Blaker

Will the Foreign Secretary explain to his hon. Friends below the Gangway that if we now refuse to sell Harriers to the Chinese it will severely damage our prospects of selling them many civilian goods as well? Will not that be bad for our relations with China?

Dr. Owen

That is a question of judgment. I have often from this Dispatch Box had to defend various arms sales. I do not believe that one can totally dissociate them from one's overall relationships with a country and from economic and other matters. They are seen as an overall entity and are part of deepening relationships between countries. For instance, it is very rare to have close relationships with a country with whom one has a complete embargo on any defence relationship.

Mr. MacFarquhar

In his consultations with Britain's allies on the sale of defensive weapons to China, will my right hon. Friend undertake to do this on a bilateral basis rather than through reference to COCOM, which would raise formalities and a possible veto by the United States?

Dr. Owen

There are various ways of handling these problems. There is a combination of formal arrangements, which are COCOM, which are done at official level and tend to be technical, and there are bilateral consultations, which deal with sensitive political issues. I think that one uses a combination of both in these sorts of circumstances.