Chancellor Philip Hammond’s visit to China not going ahead

Chancellor Philip HammondImage copyright

A visit to China by Chancellor Phillip Hammond has been called off amid reports a speech by the UK’s defence secretary angered Beijing.

There were plans for trade talks between Mr Hammond and senior Chinese government figures during the brief visit next week.

But a Treasury spokesperson said: “No trip was ever announced or confirmed.”

Earlier this week, Gavin Williamson had indicated the UK’s intention to send an aircraft carrier to the Pacific.

Unconfirmed newspaper reports claimed the Chinese government was unhappy about Mr Williamson’s speech on Monday.

In it he announced the HMS Queen Elizabeth would be deployed to the region, as well as the Middle East and the Mediterranean, on its maiden voyage.

China is currently involved in a dispute over territorial claims in the Pacific. Six countries have competing claims over the South China Sea islands, but tensions have increased in recent years.

Mr Williamson also said that China was “developing its modern military capability and its commercial power”.

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Meanwhile, former Chancellor George Osborne said he found it “very difficult” to work out the UK government’s policy on China.

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 to sort this out. At the moment it looks all at sea.”