UCL Institute of the Americas


Sailin Li

Anglo-American relations and arms sales to China (1972-1989)


Dr Tony McCulloch and Dr Nick Witham

In the late 1960s, the Soviet Union became increasingly aggressive. The Nixon administration determined to use the "Détente" policy toward the Soviet Union. In Nixon’s mind, China played an important role to maintain the European security and nuclear nonproliferation, so he acquiesced some European countries transferred arms and technology to China. 

The UK was a pioneer in arms sales to China. It sought to enhance Chinese military capabilities against the Soviet Union, gain economic benefits, and help China integrate into the liberal international system. Although China did not import British warships due to the British naval forces' poor performance in the Malvinas Islands War, the two countries still signed some arms sales agreements. In the late Cold War, the Sino-Western security cooperation originated from the Sino-British military cooperation in the 1970s, which directly developed into large-scale arms sales to China in the 1980s. A Sino-Western honeymoon relation was established in the late Cold War.

This thesis will try to answer following questions. What were British considerations behind the arms sales decision? To what extent did the US influence British decision-making? What were their different opinions? How did other countries (or regions) such as USSR, Japan and Taiwan respond to the arms sales? Did the arms sales help achieve the US and British strategic goals? How did the arms sales shape the late Cold War?