U.K. Ties With China ‘Important’ But ‘Complex,’ Hammond Says

(Bloomberg) -- Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond said Britain’s ties with China are "important" and "complex" after Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said an aircraft carrier will be deployed to Chinese waters, sparking a spat between the two countries.

“It’s a complex relationship and it hasn’t been made simpler by Chinese concerns about Royal Navy deployments in the South China Sea,” Hammond, a former foreign secretary, said in a BBC interview on Thursday. “Our relationship with China is a very important one."

Hammond’s trip to Beijing was canceled on Saturday, a day after a Chinese official in London criticized Williamson’s “Cold War mentality.” The defense secretary said in a speech that the deployment of aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth would be a U.K. show-of-strength as China increasingly disputes the waters in the Pacific region.

Williamson’s comments caused a diplomatic headache for the rest of the British government. Hammond’s trip had been intended to discuss issues affecting China-U.K. economic and financial relations after Brexit and he was expected to talk about plans for a stock market connection between the countries.

Hammond said he is “disappointed that the Chinese have reacted in the way that they have” before adding that Williamson’s comments about Queen Elizabeth’s maiden deployment were "premature."

“The aircraft carrier is not going to be at full operational readiness for another couple of years, no decisions have been made or even discussed about where its early deployments might be,” Hammond said. “And when those decisions are made, they will be made in the National Security Council.”

Williamson, who drew widespread ridicule for telling Russia to "shut up and go away," has said that Prime Minister Theresa May urged him to be more diplomatic.

His reputation for eccentricity has been played out in a series of leaked reports about defense ministry meetings aimed at stretching the U.K.’s defense budget.

The Sun newspaper reported that Williamson put forward the idea of mounting guns on tractors as makeshift mobile missile launchers and proposed firing paint balls to deter Spanish ships from trespassing in British waters near Gibraltar.

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