China's army chief shown latest British weaponry

The head of China's 2-million-strong army met British defence bosses yesterday as part of a five-day tour of the United Kingdom aimed at warming up relations. The most significant encounter was with Michael Heseltine, the Deputy Prime Minister, suggesting that arms sales were on the agenda.

A European Union embargo on sales of arms to China has been in place since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. But speculation is rising that the measure might be coming to an end. The Portuguese Defence Minister, Antonio Vitorino, said yesterday that the EU ban may be lifted soon, according to the Portuguese national news agency Lusa. "It is natural that the issue [of arms sales] will have to be re-examined" since relations between China and the EU were being normalised, he said in Peking.

General Fu Quanyou, 66, China's Chief of General Staff, who heads the People's Liberation Army, also saw his opposite number, Field Marshal Sir Peter Inge, the Chief of Defence Staff; Jeremy Hanley, the Minister of State at the Foreign Office; and Michael Portillo, the Secretary of State for Defence.

General Fu's visit to Britain comes at the end of a European tour which has taken him to France, Belgium and Italy. He is the most senior defence representative from China to pay a full-scale visit to Britain since 1989. Chi Haotian, the Defence Minister, stopped over briefly last December, en route to Washington.

The Ministry of Defence also said that General Fu's visit was to reciprocate the hospitality extended to Field Marshal Inge when he visited China last November. In spite of its historic importance, the visit has been kept very low key.

Field Marshal Inge will retire in two weeks and sources said he was anxious that General Fu should visit before then. China is in the process of reducing its multi-million armed forces, and he was also anxious that General Fu should see a high-technology, well-trained, professional force, and to contrast this with the staged demonstrations which specially trained Chinese "court divisions" carry out for visitors.

Sources admitted that the Chinese might be interested in Harrier jump jets although the EU embargo meant that the opportunities for using such visits as arms-sales pitches were limited. Detailed arrangements for the handover of Hong Kong on 1 July were also discussed.

Today, General Fu heads for RAF Wittering in Cambridgeshire, to see demonstrations by the latest Harrier jump jets, and to the Permanent Joint Headquarters at Northwood, north-west London. Tomorrow he will visit Windsor Castle, the Defence Evaluation and Research Establishment experimental airfield at Boscombe Down, Hampshire, and the Royal School of Artillery at Larkhill, Wiltshire, where he will see Britain's latest quick-firing gun, the AS 90. He will also visit the naval base at Portsmouth.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - 3-4 Month Fixed Contract - £30-£35k pro rata

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a 3-4 month pro rata fi...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £26,000+

£16000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telesales Executive is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager

£25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map