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No weekend visit to China for Chancellor after threat to deploy warship

Philip Hammond was expected to meet Chinese vice premier Hu Chunhua, but Treasury sources said the trip was never confirmed.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Philip Hammond will not visit China this weekend amid reports that Beijing pulled out of trade talks after Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson threatened to deploy a warship in the Pacific.

The Chancellor was expected to meet Chinese vice premier Hu Chunhua, but Treasury sources said the trip was never confirmed.

It follows reports in the Sun newspaper that Mr Hu scrapped the plans hours after Mr Williamson announced that he would be sending HMS Queen Elizabeth to the Pacific region.

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The HMS Queen Elizabeth’s first operational mission will take in the Pacific region (Steve Parsons/PA)

The paper said China had been expected to lift its bans on British poultry and cosmetics not tested on animals, which could have opened up access to markets worth around £10 billion over five years.

But a Treasury spokeswoman said: “The Chancellor is not travelling to China at this time. No trip was ever announced or confirmed.”

A source suggested the visit would be rescheduled when possible.

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Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson (Joe Giddens/PA)

Mr Williamson confirmed this week that HMS Queen Elizabeth’s first operational mission will take in the Pacific region, where Beijing has been involved in a dispute over navigation rights and territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Tory former chancellor George Osborne accused Mr Williamson of engaging in “gunboat diplomacy” as he said it was important for ministers to not send mixed messages.

“I think it’s very difficult to work out what the British Government’s China policy is at the moment,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Week In Westminster.

“You’ve got the Defence Secretary engaging in gunboat diplomacy of a quite old-fashioned kind, at the same time as the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Foreign Secretary are going around saying they want a close economic partnership with China.

“Ultimately it’s the responsibility of Theresa May as Prime Minister to sort this out because at the moment it looks all at sea.”

Elsewhere, the Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov hit back at Mr Williamson, calling him the “minister of war”, after the frontbencher told the Munich Security Conference that Russia was trying to “goad the West into a new arms race”.

Mr Lavrov said Moscow was interested in knowing how the western alliance saw its mandate in the Arctic, and said: “If you listen to some people like minister of war – or, sorry, minister of defence of the United Kingdom, then you might get an impression that nobody except Nato has the right to be anywhere other than in their own borders.”

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