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1996 - Mr Major’s On the Record Briefing in Thailand

Below is the text of Mr Major’s on the record briefing held in Bangkok on Saturday 2nd March 1996.


PRIME MINISTER:

Let me just at the outset say a little about the conference and why we had the conference. If one looks at the sheer scale of change in Asia and the changing relationship between Asia and Europe, the surprising thing really is that we haven't had this conference many years ago. About 50 percent of Korean investment comes into Europe, comes into the UK; 40 percent of Japanese investment comes into the UK. So they are both very important countries both for bilateral trade but also in terms of investment.

When one looks at the whole of the Asian block, we see their growth is a good deal higher than ours - by ours I mean Western Europe - their unemployment is a good deal lower than ours in Western Europe and their growth pattern is a good deal better.

So there are a great deal I think of opportunities that lie in the Asian block that the European countries haven't yet taken advantage of. And I think equally from the Asian point of view there is a great deal of technology and expertise in Western Europe that they could also link in with.

The first thing I had the opportunity of doing when I arrived was to join in the signing of a deal worth something like 800 million US dollars with Trafalgar House, that is for a new steelworks in the area and it is I think the largest contract that the United Kingdom has had with Thailand at any stage. But I have no doubt that it is but the forerunner of others.

Of the countries that attended this conference, something over half of the world's GDP was actually represented by the countries present, so one can see the scale of the opportunities that were presented.

In the conference itself I stressed the need for more trade liberalisation, more open markets, better educational, and cultural, and security links with Asia, and also the need for further tariffs and GATT reform and United Nations reform as well.

The United Nations is very important to all of us, but the reality is unless the financial problems of the United Nations are solved, it is going to run out of money in November. So clearly reform is necessary and I reiterated many of the points that you have heard me make on previous occasions in different parts of the world about the need to put the United Nations' finances on a sound footing and abolish those United Nations bodies that no longer serve a useful purpose.

The next of these conferences will be a series of follow-up meetings between businessmen and others, but the next conference with the Asia-Europe group will be held in the United Kingdom in two years time.

As a by-product of the meetings we have had here, I have had the opportunity of bilaterals with Helmut Kohl, Prime Minister Li Peng, the Prime Minister of Vietnam, the Prime Minister of Thailand, and of course Prime Minister Hashimoto this morning, we had a meeting this morning just after breakfast, and a series of informal exchanges with a number of the other Heads of Government.

One of the most important things that actually comes out of most of these meetings is the opportunity to deal, in an informal setting, with bilateral matters rather than dealing either, with great respect, through officials or colleagues or over the phone.

So it has been a very useful couple of days and I have no doubt that the conference that we have had here in the last couple of days is going to become institutionalised in the future.


QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

QUESTION:

Can you tell us about the meeting we understand you have had with Mr Bruton?

PRIME MINISTER:

I am sorry, I also had a meeting with Mr Bruton. No, I can't. We spoke for about 50 minutes. It was private stock-taking of where we have got and how we think things may develop, but neither of us are going to say anything publicly about the meeting, it was an entirely private meeting, just the two of us.

QUESTION:

Can you say whether you now agree with the Irish who seem to take the view that the Army Council statement the other day was not the last word on your joint communique on Wednesday and that it wasn't a response to that, and do you take any encouragement from that if you do agree with it?

PRIME MINISTER:

I will take encouragement when we see some positive response. We have been hearing cosy words from the IRA and their apologists for a long time. I am pretty fed up with the cosy words, I would like some positive action. So if that wasn't their last word, good, but I will react further when I do get some further positive information from them. If it was a preliminary response then it was a very inefficient, ineffective and inappropriate preliminary response. If there is more to come, we will wait and see, but I will react when we have seen it. And what we really want now is not just friendly words, not the age-old Stalinist-type denunciations that we got the other night, but some practical indication that they understand the fears, the hopes, the ambitions of the people in Northern Ireland who have suffered from 25 years of their behaviour, that is what I want to see.

INTERVIEWER:

This seems a rather different tone of emphasis with what Mr Bruton is saying?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well you asked me my view, I have given you my view. My view is that I want to hear something positive from them. I don't know whether their first reply was preliminary or not, we will have to wait and see. If there is more to come, good, let's wait for it.

INTERVIEWER:

Are you ready to give them the benefit of the doubt?

PRIME MINISTER:

I will give them the benefit of the benefit when I see there is something to have doubt about. I think I have given them enough of the benefit of the doubt over the last few months. I have given Sinn Fein the opportunity to come into democratic politics. I want to see them take that opportunity. If they take that opportunity, all well and good, but if they don't they needn't expect that either John Bruton, or I, or the democratic process is going to hang around for them. We have set a timescale, we have set a timetable and we are going to proceed along that timetable, in that timescale with or without Sinn Fein and the IRA.

INTERVIEWER:

Can you foresee a meaningful and effective peace process which does not at some stage involve Sinn Fein?

PRIME MINISTER:

Obviously it would be better with Sinn Fein. The reason we have gone to so much trouble to involve Sinn Fein is that it is obviously more effective with Sinn Fein. But if one is to take the view that you cannot proceed without Sinn Fein, what we are saying is that Sinn Fein and people who throw bombs about the place whenever they wish can put a block on the democratic process, and I don't accept that, Parliament doesn't accept that, the Irish parliament doesn't accept that and John Bruton doesn't accept that. So we would prefer to continue with them, I would prefer a ceasefire, I would prefer them to start behaving like democrats, I would prefer them to join in the talks and start acting constructively. But if they don't, I am not prepared to let the whole thing grind to a halt while they behave in that fashion.

QUESTION:

Were you aware in advance of the terms of the visa for Gerry Adams, and how do expect the United States to approach that visit now that he is being allowed in?

PRIME MINISTER:

That decision is a matter for the United States, it is not a matter for anybody else. What I understand is that the United States have provided a short-term visa, they made it clear that there must be no fund-raising and they have made it clear that like the British government and like the Irish government they will not meet Mr Adams at Ministerial level. That is their decision, it is a question for them. We have made our position clear in the United Kingdom, so have the Irish government. The American government in terms of not meeting Adams have taken precisely the same view.

QUESTION:

So you did know in advance?

PRIME MINISTER:

I am not going to comment on inter-government information.

QUESTION:

In Hong Kong this weekend people are predicting you might get a rather bumpy ride. Do you have anything lined up for Hong Kong that might draw the sting from the protest there?

PRIME MINISTER:

People in Hong Kong are concerned. I don't find that remotely surprising. After very nearly 100 years of British sovereignty, the British control of Hong Kong comes to an end, that is what the law says, that is the reality of life, it comes to an end in 1997. And I think it would be astonishing if people weren't concerned about what the position is going to be, and astonishing if they didn't bring their concerns to the Governor in the first place and to British politicians when they visit, So I will try and deal with those concerns and try and respond to them as best I can. But I think the most appropriate way to do that is to do it when I am in Hong Kong.

QUESTION:

Did you make any progress on the question of the Vietnamese boat people when you were talking to the Prime Minister this morning?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think so, but I will respond on that in Hong Kong as well. It was certainly a material part of our discussion.

QUESTION:

Why did Britain wait until the last few years of its colonial rule before granting Hong Kong its democracy, and wouldn't China have been more likely to have accepted democracy if it had been brought in say in the '70s or early ‘80s?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there was no demand. It is all very well to look back and say why weren't things done in the 1960s and 1970s, it is a very agreeable pastime to do so, but the circumstances change, people's attitudes change, people's demands change. There was no demand for those changes until one began to move into the mid-1980s and then we have moved as speedily as we can and we are very keen to see a proper system of democracy in place.

The other point I should make clear, I think sometimes people have the impression that on the due date in 1997 China assumes sovereignty, Britain disappears and we lose all interest in Hong Kong. Well let me say to you that is emphatically not how I see it. I don't think we are going to lose interest in Hong Kong. We have had a long-standing interest invested in Hong Kong, and I don't just mean in terms of cash investment, I mean emotional interest in Hong Kong, for a very long period, and we will continue to have that interest in Hong Kong. We won't have the legal responsibility, that is a matter of fact, but we will still retain that interest in Hong Kong, we will still have massive British investments in Hong Kong, we will still be a friend at the court of world opinion for Hong Kong, not just in the short term but for the long term. And I hope that point will become increasingly apparent to Hong Kong. They are not suddenly going to be divorced, ignored, cut adrift when China assumes sovereignty. The eyes of the whole world are going to be on Hong Kong. This is a unique circumstance and right across the world, starting in London but everywhere else right across the world, people will be looking to see what happens to Hong Kong and how events fall out in Hong Kong and looking after the interests of Hong Kong after the transfer of sovereignty.

QUESTION:

Li Peng's spokesman made quite clear that the issue of LEGCO and its preservation was closed, he said that yesterday, in their interpretation of the bilateral that you had. That is obviously not your view but there is obviously the suspicion that one is going through the motions. How would you respond to that interpretation?

PRIME MINISTER:

Of course if there isn't an agreement you can put it as you did, there is always the suspicion one is going through the motion. We deal with these matters very seriously and we are not going through the motions at all, we continue to negotiate seriously. And many of the things of course that you might have said to me two years ago were blocked, finished subjects with no progress are now behind us because they have been dealt with. So we regard them as live issues that we continue to negotiate about.