The BBC said in a Saturday report that Hammond’s planned visit to China next week had been called off after UK defense minister Gavin Williamson angered the Chinese officials by announcing that the HMS Queen Elizabeth would be deployed to the Pacific as part of its maiden voyage in the new future.
Unconfirmed reports said that Chinese authorities had been angered by Williamson’s Monday announcement, said the BBC.
Hammond, who is responsible for all economic and financial matters, was expected to hold high-level trade talks with senior government officials in Beijing, Presstv reported.
The meeting was a key part of Prime Minister Theresa May’s efforts to offset the impacts of Britain’s departure from the European Union which is planned for the end of March.
It is believed that there is an internal row brewing between the Treasury and the defense department over Williamson’s remarks.
However, a Treasury spokesperson denied Williamson’s announcement had any impact on trade talks, saying meetings between Hammond and Chinese officials had not been confirmed.
“No trip was ever announced or confirmed,” said the spokesperson, without elaborating.
Williamson said that the UK was prepared to use lethal force to deter countries that flout international law — a reference to China’s expansionist stance in the South China Sea. His speech, given on Monday, caused consternation among other government departments.
Beijing has been angered in the past by the fact that Britain is seeking a closer military cooperation with the United States in the South China Sea, a region which China claims in its entirety and dismisses similar territorial claims by six other Southeast Asian countries.
Critics of May’s government believe it would be impossible for London to please both China and the US at the same time.
Former chancellor George Osborne said described Williamson’s remarks as a throwback to an era of “gunboat diplomacy”.
“At the same time as the chancellor of the exchequer and the foreign secretary are going around saying they want a close economic partnership with China,” said Osborne, adding, “Ultimately it's the responsibility of Theresa May to sort this out. At the moment it looks all at sea.”