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Philip Hammond abandons trip to China after Gavin Williamson threatens to send warship to the Pacific

The Chancellor was poised to meet Chinese vice premier Hu Chunhua for trade talks – but Treasury sources said the trip was never confirmed.

Mr Hu scrapped the plan hours after Mr Williamson said he would be sending HMS Queen Elizabeth to the region, The Sun reported this week.

China had been expected to lift its bans on British poultry and cosmetics not tested on animals, which could have opened up access to markets worth around £10 billion over five years.

But a Treasury spokeswoman said: “The Chancellor is not travelling to China at this time. No trip was ever announced or confirmed.” A source suggested the visit would be rescheduled when possible.

Mr Williamson confirmed this week that HMS Queen Elizabeth’s first operational mission will take in the Pacific region, where Beijing has been involved in a dispute over navigation rights and territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Tory former chancellor George Osborne accused Mr Williamson of engaging in “gunboat diplomacy”.

He said: “I think it’s very difficult to work out what the British Government’s China policy is at the moment.

“You’ve got the Defence Secretary engaging in gunboat diplomacy of a quite old-fashioned kind, 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.

“Ultimately it’s the responsibility of Theresa May as Prime Minister to sort this out because at the moment it looks all at sea.”

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