Philip Hammond China trade visit called off ‘over Gavin Williamson warship row’

Posted On: 
17th February 2019

Philip Hammond will not visit China in the coming days amid reports that Beijing pulled out after Gavin Williamson threatened to deploy a warship in the Pacific.

Philip Hammond and Gavin Williamson
PA Images

The Chancellor was expected to meet the country’s vice premier, Hu Chunhua, for trade talks but the plans are thought to have been scuppered by the Defence Secretary.

Mr Williamson last week said HMS Queen Elizabeth’s first operational mission will take in the Pacific region, where Beijing has been involved in a territorial dispute in the South China Sea.

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In a speech about the future of UK defence, he also painted China as a threat when he noted it was "developing its modern military capability and its commercial power".

It has been reported that the Chinese ambassador raised the apparent threat in a call with the Foreign Office.

An MoD source has denied the visit was scrapped because of the speech, according to the BBC, while a Treasury spokesperson said: "No trip was ever announced or confirmed."

Former Chancellor George Osborne last week criticised the “mixed messages” from the Government on China.

He said Mr Williamson was engaging in "gunboat diplomacy" while Mr Hammond spoke of boosting economic ties after Brexit.

"Ultimately it's the responsibility of Theresa May as Prime Minister to sort this out because at the moment it looks all at sea,” he told the BBC.

On a visit to China last year, Mrs May said she wanted to "intensify the golden era in UK-China relations" and to “deepen co-operation with China on key global and economic issues".