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28 Oct 2008 : Column 228WH—continued

Our senior leadership engagements develop trust, but they also offer the opportunity to explore possible areas of mutual benefit face to face. The limited command and staff training offered in the United Kingdom exposes senior People’s Liberation Army officers to a military
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who are accountable for their actions and embrace the international law of armed conflict. Junior leadership training, such as the attendance of cadets at Sandhurst that upset the hon. Gentleman so much, achieves similar ends.

We use the principles set out in the consolidated EU and national arms export licensing criteria to guide us in what support we offer to the Chinese. On that basis, it is appropriate to allow Chinese military personnel on to courses that have direct relevance to peacekeeping operations. Other examples include the border security programme, which facilitates co-operation in global counter-terrorism, and the peace support operations programme, which introduces students to British Army peace support operations doctrine and training. There are also areas of military co-operation that have a clear benefit for the wider global community. An example is the sharing of hydrographic survey data, which offers increased safety to international maritime traffic in the region.

The Chinese offer us reciprocal opportunities to send military personnel to China, although it is difficult to take advantage of lower-level training courses, because the majority are conducted in Mandarin and we have few military personnel with the necessary language skills. However, we send officers to the national defence university’s annual international defence symposium, which is conducted in English and includes students from around the world. I am sure the hon. Gentleman, as a former serving officer, will recognise the value of such shared international military opportunities.

The hon. Gentleman’s recent questions, which he has brought up again in his speech, highlight his concern that our military activities might be out of step with those of our European neighbours and that—this is a particular concern—we are upsetting the United States of America. That is not the case: our activities and involvement with the Chinese military are very similar in scale and scope to those offered by France, Germany and the United States—all countries with which China has a close involvement. Our defence attaché in Beijing liaises with the attachés of our allies to ensure that our practice remains coherent with theirs, and the programme is reviewed at a regular pan-Whitehall China strategy meeting. We will continue our military engagement unless there is evidence of any misuse of the skills or knowledge that we provide.

The hon. Gentleman alleged—saying that it was dangerous and silly—that we have not consulted our European partners and the United States, or even the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. None of that is true; our engagement with the Chinese Liberation Army is known to and shared with them, as is theirs with us. The suggestion that we risk a major upset with the United States authorities, or with France or Germany, all of which are doing the same thing, is palpable nonsense.

Mr. Wallace: The Minister clearly has not read all the parliamentary answers that he has been given; he has been reading the questions but not the answers. What came out from the answers was that there was no discussion with the Foreign Office or with United States representatives on the issue. The record will speak for itself.

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The thing that I find amazing, coming from a Government who are so European-focused about many things, concerns the Madrid declaration: right or wrong, the part of it that is absolutely clear, which specifies the

is not a unilateral option that one can pull out of. If the Government wish to break it—there has been pressure to do so for many years—that must be done together. The European Commission officials to whom I spoke this morning are absolutely under the impression that military co-operation goes hand in hand with the arms embargo. If it is the Minister’s intention and the Government’s to remove that as well, they should say so.

Mr. Ainsworth: I have made this as clear as I can: there is no intention on the Government’s part to remove the arms embargo. We are strict adherents to it. That requirement remains wholly justified in today’s scenario. We try to ensure that none of what we offer the Chinese involves any training or transfer of capability that would give them the ability to upset the regional balance, such as the kind of skills and abilities necessary to manage an invasion of Taiwan, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned. That is not within the scope of anything that we do. We do not provide the Chinese with anything that could be used for that or for internal repression.

The hon. Gentleman repeats the allegation that we do not talk to or consult the FCO, despite the fact that he has been told in writing and orally in this Chamber that a pan-Whitehall China forum meets regularly to discuss our engagement with China. Our defence attaché in Beijing is closely aligned and talks regularly with all our allies, including the United States of America, and would make certain that any misalignment of our involvement with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army was brought to our attention immediately and addressed.

The hon. Gentleman’s concerns are ill-founded. I do not know what his purpose is. If he is trying to stir up trouble between us and the United States, there is really none to be stirred up. I hope that what I have said satisfies him to some degree, although I doubt it.

Mr. Wallace: I am not trying to stir up trouble; I am trying to prevent a threat to our defence industry and our long, historical relationship with the United States. Yet again, I shall read out an answer from the Minister himself. My question was:

The Minister’s answer was:

To me, that is a clear answer.

Mr. Ainsworth: The hon. Gentleman read out the answer. The question asked what discussions the Secretary of State has had, not what discussions the British Government have had. If he puts that into context, he will realise that his concerns are—

Mr. Wallace: Will the Minister give way?

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Mr. Ainsworth: No, I will not give way again. I hope that my explanation reassures the hon. Gentleman that military engagement with China is properly thought through, appropriate and coherent with our allies’ efforts. The fact that a military as large as the People’s Liberation Army place such great value on the training, doctrine and experience of our much smaller armed forces reflects
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great credit on our military. I am sure that he will join me, if not in anything else, in acknowledging our armed forces’ deservedly high reputation for military excellence.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at six minutes to Two o’clock.

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