Energy diplomacy

Sino-British ties at ‘crucial juncture’ after delay in Hinkley Point nuclear plant deal, warns Chinese ambassador

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 August, 2016, 1:19pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 August, 2016, 11:02am

Beijing has warned that its ties with Britain are at a “crucial historical juncture”, after the British government unexpectedly delayed its final approval for a China-funded nuclear project in England.

Liu Xiaoming, Chinese ambassador to Britain, wrote in the Financial Times on Monday that the delay in the £18 billion (HK$182 billion) project for a new nuclear power plant in southwestern England’s Hinkley Point was “a test of mutual trust” between the two countries.

Chain reaction: will nuclear plant decision herald tougher times for Sino-British ties?

Liu’s comment came after new British Prime Minister Theresa May reportedly postponed the project’s final approval because of security concerns over China’s involvement in it.

China is to fund a third of the project while French firm EDF will fund most of the remainder.

May’s Chief of Staff Nick Timothy had previously voiced concerns about Britain’s national security being compromised because of Chinese state-owned firm China General Nuclear’s participation in the project.

In a statement similar to Liu’s comment, state-owned news agency Xinhua reported last week that the new British government’s “suspicion towards Chinese investment ... risked dampening the hard-won mutual trust with China”.

British cloud over EDF-China General Nuclear Hinkley Point power plant deal

In the wake of Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, questions have been raised about the future of Sino-British relations, which had blossomed under former prime minister David Cameron.

The country is a key destination for Chinese companies investing overseas.

In the past five years, such firms had invested more in Britain than in Germany, France and Italy combined, Liu said.

“It has not been easy for China and the UK to have come this far,” Liu wrote, adding that mutual trust should be all the more treasured as bilateral ties reached a crucial juncture.

How China can help Britain reinvent itself

“I hope the UK will keep its door open to China and that the British government will continue to support [the Hinkley Point project] – and come to a decision as soon as possible so that the project can proceed smoothly,” Liu said.