China cancels trade talks with UK in protest over Defence Secretary Williamson's speech

The trade talks were cancelled in protest at Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson's speech, where he threatened to deploy a warship in the Pacific. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON - Chinese Vice-Premier Hu Chunhua has cancelled trade talks with Britain's Finance Minister, Mr Philip Hammond, after Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson threatened to deploy an aircraft carrier in Beijing's backyard, The Sun newspaper reported on Thursday (Feb 14).

Mr Hu was due to hold trade talks with Mr Hammond this weekend.

Instead, the newspaper said, Mr Hu cancelled the talks in protest at Mr Williamson's speech on Monday.

Mr Williamson had said in a fiery speech that Britain must be prepared to boost its "lethality" and threatened to send the warship to the Pacific in response to Beijing's military ambitions.

The speech appears to have been seen by both No. 10 Downing Street and the Treasury before Mr Williamson gave it, a defence source told The Sun.

"There is huge anger across Cabinet. Gavin was partially inciting a war - the team knew China wouldn't be happy," another source told the newspaper.

China had been expected to lift bans on British poultry and cosmetics which have not been tested on animals during the planned trade talks, opening up access to markets worth an estimated £10.2 billion (S$17.74 billion) over five years.

However, China only offered junior officials for the trade talks, ending hopes that two Memorandums of Understanding would be signed.

British officials have embarked on frantic diplomacy to try and get the talks back on track for this weekend, The Sun reported.

The deals would have been a much-needed boost for Prime Minister Theresa May's government, which is scrambling to drum up trade ahead of Britain's departure from the European Union.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.