Lords debates China and multilateral disarmament

23 November 2012

Members of the Lords debated the case for intensified discussions on multilateral nuclear disarmament with China yesterday (Thursday 22 November)

Lord Browne of Ladyton (Labour), former secretary of state for defence, requested the debate, saying: ‘What is striking about our engagement with China is that its nuclear weapons are shrouded in secrecy. There is nothing very unusual about that, of course; most of the nuclear weapons states in the world have a substantial degree of secrecy about their nuclear weapons.’

He continued: ‘The purpose of all of this is that if we are to achieve the ambition that we say we all share, we have to prepare ourselves for a discussion across the world about ridding the world of these nuclear weapons… What will our contribution be other than saying, "When the time is right we will engage with these multilateral discussions", and what steps will we take to encourage the Chinese to engage?’

Lord Howe of Aberavon (Conservative), president of the Great Britain-China Centre, expressed his view, saying: ‘We have to underline - as others have already done - the importance in this context of hoping for active participation by the People's Republic of China. It is an area where there is some anxiety - as there often is about the People's Republic of China… Fortunately, there have been a number of examples of the Chinese Government's respect for the importance of law and the legal system, not only in the international fields that we are talking about, but in relation to their government and, for example, to the discussions with us about the future of Hong Kong, which became an important issue.‘

Lord Wilson of Tillyorn (Crossbench), followed, saying: ‘It is clear that when China gets involved in international and nuclear affairs, as in the case of North Korea, it exerts great influence. It was striking that China was so outspoken in 2006 when North Korea did its first test of a nuclear device. It shows what can happen and can be done when China involves herself in these sorts of international issues… it is clear to me that a greater involvement by China in crucial international issues must include the issue of multilateral nuclear disarmament and I hope, like other noble Lords, that Britain will play its role in that as well.’

Lord Wallace of Saltaire (Liberal Democrat) responded on behalf of the government, saying: ‘Our aim is to build an international environment in which no state feels the need to possess nuclear weapons; an environment that will allow nuclear states to disarm in a balanced and verifiable manner.’

He continued: ‘We look forward to continuing our constructive engagement with China on all levels; bilaterally, as part of the successful P5 (China, France, Russia, UK, USA) dialogue, and through our regular multilateral exchanges. We are committed to encouraging further progress with China and all Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty states against our shared commitments. We are also clear… that we will remain resolute in pursuing positive steps towards a world without nuclear weapons.’

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