wise has been doing some fascinating delving into the past...
Whilst researching at the National Archives, Kew, I came
across a file released in December 2008 under the thirty year rule. It
was marked PREM16/1535 - Anglo-Chinese Relations, The Sale of Harrier
Aircraft to China. This Cabinet Committee file provided an interesting
snap-shot of government thinking and actions between October 1977 and
August 1978. The file, about an inch thick, was a mixture of memos,
minutes, speaking notes, telex copies and visit reports; a fascinating
collection of papers recording how government attempted to balance
conflicting foreign policy and economic issues. It also demonstrated
the potential impact that sales prospects have on government policy,
causing engagement at the highest levels of government.
Initial UK Government motivations were driven by strategies
to oust the French from what was perceived as growing trade relations
with China. The Foreign Secretary, David Owen, was of course concerned
about the impact of a UK-China relationship on President Carter's US
administration and the COCOM (Co-ordinating Committee for Multilateral
Export Controls) nations.
The Prime Minister, Jim Callaghan, commissioned a study to
analyse the economic, military, industrial and political implications
of a sale such as that of the Harrier. The study report recommended the
development of a Western policy that would enable China to stand up to
the Soviet Union whilst encouraging her to moderate her inclination to
work against Western interests world-wide. Therefore, it stated, the UK
should promote arms sales to China and press the COCOM nations to agree.
A visit to China by the Chief of Defence Staff Sir Neil Cameron, where
the Harrier was discussed, caused a major stir due to his poor choice
of words regarding the threat posed by the Soviet Union. His comments,
together with rumours of a potential Harrier sale to China reinforced
by an invitation for a Chinese military delegation to visit England,
aroused concern within the Soviet leadership. This in turn produced an
abrupt cooling of London's relationship with Moscow.
John Farley, in his recently published book, 'A View from the Hover',
describes flying a Chinese pilot in the Harrier during the 1978
Farnborough air Show. Having a better understanding of the UK
Government's policy challenges at that time made his account even more
interesting. Will more be revealed when the 1979 files are released by
the National Archives?