Portillo in Hong Kong rush job

Michael Portillo, the Secretary of State for Defence, will tomorrow be making a whirlwind tour of Hong Kong, lasting less than a day. Government officials in the colony have been left wondering whether this has more to do with the Conservative Party's leadership concerns than the defence of the realm.

Ostensibly, Mr Portillo will be in the colony as part of routine inspection of troop duties. However, he will barely have time to shake hands with the troops up near the Chinese border before being whisked off to see the remnants of the naval presence and the newly arrived Black Watch battalion who have barely had time to unpack.

The suspicion about political motives has been heightened by Mr Portillo's insistence that his press entourage for the trip should consist of political correspondents rather than defence writers who would normally be present on occasions such as these.

He had been scheduled for a three-day stay in the colony but the lack of a Conservative majority in the House of Commons meant he needed to be present for a parliamentary vote yesterday and will not be able leave London until this afternoon.

From Hong Kong, he will fly to Brunei, where Britain has 950 troops including 600 Gurkhas, all paid for by the Sultan.

The visit is also expected to result in the signature of a deal to buy up to three corvettes - fast but heavily armed small warships of about 1,500 tons each, designed for policing the country's Exclusive Economic Zone and protecting natural resources as well as possible use against the growing threat of piracy.

The deal for the ships, their equipment and related training could be worth up to pounds 250m. Although relatively small in defence terms, the timing of the deal is highly significant in the run-up to the general election and also to a major defence exhibition, called Idex, in Abu Dhabi next month.

The United Arab Emirates could be in the market for a much bigger order - six patrol boats and six corvettes.

Ministry of Defence sources said Mr Portillo was due to meet the Sultan during the visit on Thursday. Also on the agenda is a joint military exercise to take place in April called Setia Kawan II, involving 2,500 British personnel, and the Defence Procurement Memorandum of Understanding signed by the Sultan and John Major in 1994.

The brevity of Mr Portillo's visit to Hong Kong serves to underline a feeling of British neglect in the colony. Both Malcolm Rifkind, the Foreign Secretary, and John Prescott, Labour's deputy leader, have truncated recent visits because of parliamentary pressures at home.

Mr Rifkind's visit last week has stirred some controversy because of suggestions that he used his very short time in the colony to engage in Conservative Party fundraising.

However, this has been categorically denied by Wilma Croxen, the vice- chairman of the Conservatives Abroad organisation in Hong Kong who organised a cocktail reception for Mr Rifkind at Hong Kong's luxury Mandarin Hotel.

"It was a fund-losing event," she said regretfully, not enough money was raised from the pounds 24 entrance fee to cover the hire of the room and the drinks. Mr Rifkind stayed for less than half an hour and the subject of party funds was not raised.

It is a far cry from the days when Hong Kong tycoons were among the Conservative Party's main benefactors and John Major was able to walk away from a select dinner with the colony's tycoons after pledges of millions of pounds had been made.

Those same tycoons now want nothing to do with anything British; their benevolence is strictly reserved for the incoming Chinese regime.

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?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory