The crisis surrounding beleaguered MG Rover deepened this weekend with news that a team of negotiators, from the Department of Trade and Industry, had been despatched to China to try to kick the wheel back on the lifesaving joint venture with Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation.

It also emerged that the Government is becoming increasingly desperate to keep the last British-owned volume car producer on the road - at least until after the General Election - and is offering MG Rover a £100 million bridging loan to tide it over until Saic's money starts to flow in.

The Chinese, however, must now be wondering what on earth they have got themselves into.

Not least, because it looks as if they do sign the joint venture, which, bluntly, is now MG Rover's only hope of avoiding receivership in the next few weeks, they could be exposing themselves to a pensions liability estimated in some quarters to be as much as £400 million.

If they do ultimately walk away from the deal on those grounds, the irony would be almost too painful to bear.

That's because the pensions crisis at Longbridge, as with thousands of other British companies, is one largely of the Government's own making.

Ever since he walked into 11 Downing Street in May 1997, stolid, po-faced Gordon Brown has been robbing the nation's pensions funds to the tune of £5 billion by denying them the tax credit on the share dividend income that forms a large part of their annual income.

It was called the reform of advance corporation tax. That's a concept that very few people understood and even fewer cared about.

The stock market was booming, pensions funds were awash with cash, so what did a technical adjustment matter.

But nearly eight years later, the pensions chickens are coming home to roost in big numbers.

So many company finalsalary schemes are under water that commentators are predicting their imminent disappearance from the financial landscape.

Of course, the Government is not wholly to blame: the fact that pensioners are living far longer than they used to do; the savage post-2000 bear market in securities, and prolonged low-interest rates which have diluted investment returns have all played their part.

The situation is now so bad, says the Pensions Reform Group, that not even the restoration of the dividend tax credit would be enough to save occupational final-salary schemes.

The Government has recognised the situation by setting up a £400 million fund, bankrolled by the pension funds themselves, to compensate employees who lose their pensions when their employer goes bust.

But with high-profile collapses, such as those at Turner & Newall, Allders and Courts in the pipeline, the fund could be wiped out even before it has got going.

So, here we are: even as Ministers wave £100 million cheques, MG Rover could disappear into a financial black hole that the Government has largely dug.