Theresa May defends delaying Chinese-backed nuclear power plan

British Prime Minister says she needs to ‘weigh up evidence and consider advice’ before deciding on the fate of Hinckley Point collaboration

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 September, 2016, 5:06pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 September, 2016, 5:06pm

British Prime Minister Theresa May on Sunday defended her decision to delay a partly Chinese-funded nuclear power deal, despite it causing diplomatic tension with China, as she landed in the country to attend the G20 summit.

In July, May upset Chinese officials by delaying the US$24 billion project that would see French firm EDF build Britain’s first new nuclear power plant in decades with the help of US$8 billion from China.

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The decision caught investors by surprise and has cast doubt over whether May, who took power in July following Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, will continue to court China as a major source of infrastructure investment.

“This is the way I operate,” May told reporters on board her official plane on the way to Hangzhou, where she will have a private meeting with President Xi Jinping. The summit is May’s first visit to China.

“I don’t just come in and say ‘I’m going to take a decision’ – I actually look at the evidence, weigh up that evidence, take the advice and consider that and come to my decision.”

A final decision is expected later this month.

May is reportedly concerned about possible national security risks of allowing China to invest in nuclear projects, with the EDF plant being seen as a gateway to a deal that would pave the way for Chinese involvement in another two nuclear plants.

She is expected to ask Britain’s National Security Council to look at broader relations with China to fully understand the extent of the bilateral relationship.

Asked whether she trusted China, May said: “Of course we have a relationship with them, we’re working with them... what I want to do is build on that relationship.”

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But, she also stressed a need to broaden the group of nations that Britain can trade with and tap for cash to help reinvigorate its power, transport and technology infrastructure.

“This is the G20, this is about talking to a number of world leaders. I’m going to give the message that Britain is very much open for business... I want to be talking about the opportunities for free trade around the world.”