Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Press Conference on leaving Beijing

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Beijing
Source: The Times, 11 April 1977
Journalist: David Bonavia, The Times, reporting
Editorial comments: Evening. A brief account of MT’s speech at her return banquet follows the account of her press conference in Beijing. There is a further account of the press conference in David Bonavia’s Scotsman article (see return banquet speech).
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 668
Themes: Foreign policy (Asia), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states)

Peking warning on danger of trade unions meddling in politics

Mrs Thatcher sees stability as China's aim

Mrs Margaret Thatcher arrived today in the east China beauty spot of Soochow to continue her week-long tour of the country after talks in Peking yesterday with Chairman Hua Kuo-feng.

She landed at a military airfield on board a British-built Trident belonging to the Chinese national airline and was taken to visit a particularly prosperous commune before touring a silk embroidery design centre and visiting famous old gardens.

At a press conference in Peking last night Mrs Thatcher said that she thought one of the reasons why the Chinese had invited her was that they saw her as a likely government leader.

Chinese officials accompanying her have shown intense interest in the British political scene and clearly hope that she will win the next election because of her tough stand against Soviet military expansion.

Asked about her impressions of the Chinese leadership with whom she had talked, she said: “They are aiming at a settled period, a stable period.”

By accident or design, the Chinese press has published during Mrs Thatcher's visit a warning about the danger of allowing trade unions to interfere in national politics. The Peking People's Daily has said that the so-called “Gang of Four” headed by Mrs Chiang-Ching, Chairman Mao 's widow, tried to use the Chinese trade unions in their attempt for power last year.

It said: “The international and domestic trade union movements' repeated experience proves that unions organized for the working class can only promote their liberating function under the leadership of a Marxist-Leninist governing party, the vanguard of the working class.”

As the Chinese do not consider pro-Soviet parties to be Marxist-Leninist, this could well be read as a criticism of elements in the British trade union movement which they see as weakening Nato and the European Community through their influence in the Labour Party.

Chinese trade unions were organized in the 1950s on the Soviet model—as state-controlled political organs and vehicles for worker benefits. They were virtually disbanded during the Cultural Revolution and surfaced again only in preparation for the party congress in 1973. Their role is believed to be still largely political.

The People's Daily said that last year the Gang of Four had tried to use the preparations for the ninth national trade union conference in Peking for [end p1] their own purpose, while at the same time questioning the role of the unions, and suggesting that they should be seen as a weapon in the political battle with the pragmatists who now rule China.

Besides the two hours of talks with Chairman Hua, the Conservative Party leader has met Mr Li Hsien-nien, the senior Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Huang Hua, the Foreign Minister, and Mr Li Chiang, the Minister of Foreign Trade. In a speech at a farewell banquet last night, she laid special emphasis on the importance of future Anglo-Chinese trade.

Asked whether she agreed with the Chinese view that war between the West and the Soviet Union was virtually inevitable, she said that the leaders in Peking seemed to think it “much more inevitable than I do.” She reiterated her view that peace could be maintained only through strength.

During the visit Mrs Thatcher has seemed rather tense and unsure of herself and some of her questions at the commune today suggested that she had been inadequately briefed before leaving for China. For instance, she appeared never to have heard of “barefoot doctors” . However her hosts seem anxious to make her feel at home.

This evening Mrs Thatcher toured a famous Soochow garden built in the sixteenth century by a disillusioned courtier and named “The Garden of the Futility of Politics” . No insinuation was thought to be intended by her hosts.

Mrs Thatcher who is accompanied by her daughter and two aides, leaves tomorrow for Hangchow.