Envoy adds to UK trade fears

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 February, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 February, 1994, 12:00am

CHINA'S ambassador to London yesterday added to the fears of trade discrimination against Britain over Governor Chris Patten's democracy plans.

Ambassador Ma Yuzhen warned that an impact on British firms was ''hardly avoidable'' because the reform plans had caused ''great anger'' among mainland officials and businessmen.

He said China did not want to exclude British firms from contracts but the UK's ''public relations'' with the Beijing Government would be a factor and would compare unfavourably with French, German and American companies.

The comments by Mr Ma seem bound to add to growing concern at Westminster and in British business circles that China will carry out its threat to discriminate against British companies.

They add to the comments coming most recently from China's Minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Co-operation Wu Yi who claimed the ''unco-operative attitude'' of the British Government over Hong Kong was likely to hurt Sino-British trade.

The President of the Board of Trade, Michael Heseltine, is understood to have cancelled plans to lead a trade mission to China in the autumn out of fears that his presence might prove counter-productive, although other lower key missions are going ahead.

Tomorrow, Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd will appear before the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee investigating relations between Britain, Hong Kong and China and he is bound to be questioned at length over the issue.

Mr Ma told The Observer: ''It is a question of competition in the Chinese market. China will spend US$700 billion [HK$5,403 billion] in the next five to seven years. We do not want to exclude the British.

''In competing for these contracts, public relations is a very important factor. If Chinese people are offended, Chinese sovereignty is jeopardised and previous agreements breached, do you expect the people to be friendly and more willing to deal with the British than others? It is illogical.'' Mr Hurd will tell the all-party committee that there is as yet no evidence that British firms are being discriminated against and that China will do its case for entry into the GATT no good if it continues making such noises. He is also expected to point out that China has trade agreements with the European Union which forbids discrimination against one member state.

Nonetheless, there are growing concerns among British companies such as GEC and Cable and Wireless, and some have passed these on privately to ministers, the Foreign Office and Department of Trade.