Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Complete list of 8,000+ Thatcher statements & texts of many of them

1989 Oct 24 Tu
Margaret Thatcher

Radio Interview for BBC World Service (Kuala Lumpur Commonwealth Summit)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: Radio Interview
Venue: Commonwealth Conference Centre, Kuala Lumpur
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist: Mark Brayne, BBC
Editorial comments: Between 0900 and lunch.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2132
Themes: Foreign policy (Africa), Commonwealth (South Africa), Trade, Terrorism, Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (Asia), Race, immigration, nationality, Commonwealth (general)

Interviewer

Prime Minister, you have described the disagreements here over South Africa as a storm in a teacup; others who have taken a rather different view have spoken at their most strongest of despicable behaviour; others have said at least Britain has violated the rules of fair play. Why have you been so dismissive of your colleagues' points of view?

Prime Minister

Because it is they who have violated the rules of fair play, not I.

The Conference came out with a communique about South Africa. The communique itself made it quite clear that there were major areas of disagreement between Britain and the rest - and said so - in four different places. Nevertheless, although they had expressed their view in that communique, we were not allowed to express ours so naturally, in the interests of fair play and fairness to Britain and to our viewpoint, I expressed those in that further statement which I made. [end p1]

Interviewer

In that further statement, you express fairly forcibly your view that sanctions are not a good idea, yet in the main document you did put your name to a suggestion - a call - for existing sanctions to be maintained. The Canadian Prime Minister, Brian Mulroney, says that if you do not believe that is a repudiation, you believe in the tooth fairy. Is it not a contradiction?

Prime Minister

No, it is not a contradiction at all and Brian Mulroneyhe is denying the whole history of this matter. He knows full well that when the Commonwealth called for comprehensive sanctions I was positively and utterly against them. The rest of the Commonwealth were for them. It was interesting, nevertheless, that in spite of all the hot air they talk they followed me, in spite of everything they said. I said “No!” and they did not implement any.

We have what are called “gesture sanctions” - gold coins and not promoting tourism, etc. - and also, of course, we had had United Nations sanctions on no armaments to a state that oppresses its people. Those were there; otherwise, it was gesture sanctions. They wanted comprehensive. I said: “Certainly not! They will punish the people whom you are most wanting to help!” but nevertheless, in spite of everything they said, they did what I did - no extra sanctions. But the gesture sanctions that are there go on - and this was my suggestion and they accepted it - until we have got a little bit further with South Africa and then we can say: “If you do these extra things, we will take off the things that we have got on now!” [end p2]

Interviewer

What, in detail, would be evidence enough for you of clear and irreversible change as it is expressed in the Joint Declaration for sanctions to be eased?

Prime Minister

I think there has been clear change. I do not know whether you can say anything in life is irreversible. I should think that taking East-West relations, for example, when Mr. Khrushchev introduced certain relaxations in Russia some people would have said they were irreversible but Mr. Brezhnev came in and reversed them all, and so irreversible change? I do not think you can lay down something that is irreversible. What you can do is look at a progression of events and see apartheid steadily and surely relaxed and then I hope when Mr. Mandela is released and the ANC unbanned, that would be quite an important step forward: and then, when negotiations start of course that would be a very very big step forward indeed.

Interviewer

The document talks about the need for negotiations between the South African Government and authentic representatives of the South African people. It does seem that the Government and the African National Congress are edging towards some sort of contact. Do you see the moment coming where you would be prepared - or the British Government would be prepared - to have contact with the ANC and accept that it is not a terrorist organisation? [end p3]

Prime Minister

I wish I had more evidence of that. I wish to have evidence that whatever its past, it is prepared to suspend all violence and we have not yet quite got that. Mr. de Klerk has said that it is peaceful negotiations that are called for and the government, in consultation with the people of South Africa, will have to decide who should be at the negotiations and then the Eminent Persons Group concept of negotiations in return for suspension of violence or in modern formulation “peaceful negotiations” will take effect.

Interviewer

If the Americans do actually initiate informal contact or help informal contact between the South African Government and the ANC, would that not in a way be enough for you to follow suit?

Prime Minister

No, not necessarily. I have always been absolutely clear - as I was for example with the PLO - that if they would renounce violence I would see them. At one stage they would not renounce violence. Now I understand they have accepted 242, that they have now renounced violence as a way forward, although of course it continues in the territories on the West Bank so the renunciation is not total. [end p4]

But let me make another thing clear: I do not accept the ANC or the other liberation movement the PAC as the sole representatives of black South African people, very far from it! There have been a lot of people who are members of one particular group, nation or tribe who wish to have their own representatives negotiate on their behalf and a lot more people have stayed in South Africa the whole time.

Interviewer

Moving on to Hong Kong, Prime Minister, the Declaration expresses support for the people of Hong Kong and acknowledges the concern of the people of Hong Kong but there is no specific call on China to contribute to the restoration of Hong Kong's confidence after the events of Tiananmen Square in June. Would you have wished for a stronger statement of the Commonwealth position?

Prime Minister

Well no. I think we have got what we want.

First, you recognise that Hong Kong will be important to China - very important - so long as her prosperity continues. That is the most important thing and we must do everything possible to keep that going, which means that we ask other people to continue to invest in Hong Kong as we will do ourselves. [end p5]

Secondly, you recognise that the most powerful interest of the Hong Kong people is that China honours the agreement that she has signed and therefore we must constantly repeat that. It is signed and registered with the United Nations.

So those are the two things - continuing prosperity and that China and Britain keep the agreement they have signed - and that is the best hope for the Hong Kong people.

Interviewer

But you yourself have said a number of times that it is now in a way up to China to restore confidence in Hong Kong. This Declaration does not include any call on China. Could your colleagues in the Commonwealth not have gone a little further?

Prime Minister

Well, the question is they had to have what everyone can agree to do and what is there everyone can agree to do? We believe that it is up to China to do something which will help to restore confidence in Hong Kong. That is our belief, maybe the belief of a number of others, but not perhaps quite of all. [end p6]

Interviewer

A large number of people in Hong Kong are waiting for the so-called “nationality package”. They look to Britain for some kind of escape mechanism to give them the confidence to stay on in Hong Kong and they would like large numbers of people given right of abode in Britain, not three-and-a-half million, but is there a likelihood fairly soon of some new package coming out?

Prime Minister

We would hope either by the end of the year or at the turn of the year to be able to get a package out. It would, of course, require legislation and it is important that we get it right. I should think round about the turn of the year.

Interviewer

And how many people do you think might be given that kind of right of abode?

Prime Minister

I will not go into that at the moment. We have a team out in Hong Kong looking at various groups of people to whom we should offer help and we need to have the results of that before we can decide. [end p7]

Interviewer

The final Declaration talks of the need for repatriation of those boat people in Hong Kong who are classified as not genuine refugees. How soon might a programme of mandatory repatriation now begin?

Prime Minister

Most countries in the world repatriate illegal immigrants. There is nothing unusual about that. Genuine refugees are not repatriated and will not be because they would have great difficulty if they went home and therefore they do not go home. Others have come as illegal immigrants in search of jobs. So far, we have not repatriated people involuntarily, but we hope they will agree to go home on a voluntary basis and if we give them a certain amount of help when they get there. We are trying to sort that out. If we do not, we shall have to consider something further because there is no way in which people can just sit back and expect Hong Kong to keep 55,000 and more, sometimes coming in at the rate of 300 a day, and it is no answer for other nations just to say: “We do not like them to be repatriated to Vietnam!” If they do not like that, then they simply must practically help Hong Kong in terms of saying how many of those refugees they would take each in their own country. It is not enough just to talk. The talk is worthless unless it comes accompanied by practical offers. [end p8]

Interviewer

The Americans and the Canadians continue to say that they would not like to see a programme of mandatory repatriation. The Canadian Prime Minister, Brian Mulroney, has confirmed that today. Would you be prepared to order a start to such a programme against the objections of the Americans and the Canadians?

Prime Minister

We shall have to consider all factors but the Americans repatriate illegal immigrants to Mexico. The Americans repatriate illegal immigrants to Haiti. That is not exactly a nice cosy place to be!

Interviewer

A final question about the future of the Commonwealth:

You, Prime Minister, will be serving on a ten-leader committee to examine the future of the Commonwealth. If every two years the leaders of the Commonwealth meet and exercise their disagreements in such vigorous form as they have done here in Kuala Lumpur, what really is the future of the Commonwealth? Is it worthwhile? [end p9]

Prime Minister

Well, it is better than having a nice pat communique which is just as exciting as porridge, isn't it? And it is far better to air your disagreements and to air them in a very friendly way. I can assure you that when we have a very vigorous debates people are very soon many of them getting onside with me again no matter what has been said in debate.

Interviewer

But what perhaps should the role of the Commonwealth be in future once the South African problem is sorted out?

Prime Minister

Why do you question its existing role? I do not question the role of the BBC. I say it exists, it does a very very interesting job, we listen to its news. I do not say: “Now let us have a new look at the role of the BBC!” and we do not question the role of the Commonwealth. It exists on certain fundamental principles. In the 1971 Singapore Declaration - that is absolutely fundamental - we agree it exists to support fundamental principles, freedom under a rule of law and democracy. Not all of our members have that and we have that and we have to sustain them through a difficult period until they will get it so it exists and it exists for those interests of its members. It girdles the earth so that at any time, no matter what is happening in the world, there will be some [end p10] members of the Commonwealth who are pretty near to the spot where it is happening and can either give us advice or will ask for help. It speaks without any translators or interpreters there. That is unique. We are members, too, of the United Nations so as a Commonwealth we can take our fundamental values into the United Nations and we can work through the United Nations under such things as environment and drugs and so on. So it is an effective organisation.

What we are looking at is to see whether we can make it even more effective, to enlarge the things it does or change its focus during the coming ten years. But I am constantly saying to people it is no good getting out crystal balls and gazing into the future. We could not have foreseen some of the things that have happened in the last ten years. What you do know is that if you are on the right principles, have cooperation and a good secretariat, you are well equipped to face anything which might arise.