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Chinese President Xi Jinping’s four-day visit to London was marked by pomp and pageantry, but even more important than the visuals was a deal he struck with his host, Prime Minister David Cameron, to make China a significant investor in Britain’s nuclear industry, as well as a contractor for building power plants.
The two leaders closed several deals totaling about $62 billion, including one allowing Beijing to make its first significant investment in a Western nuclear power plant. China’s state-owned General Nuclear Corp. (CGN) will buy one-third of the shares in the planned Hinkley Point Nuclear Plant in Western England, whose worth totals $28 billion.
CGN also will control one-fifth of the Sizewell nuclear plant in eastern England, as well as two-thirds of the Bradwell nuclear plant, north of the Sizewell facility. It also will build a reactor at the Bradwell plant.
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Xi, speaking through an interpreter, called the British-Chinese partnership the start of a “golden era” of cooperation.
Cameron has expressed his interest in increased Chinese investment in his country and selling more British goods to China, but is also mindful of complaints that Beijing’s human rights record, never strong, has only declined further since he took office nearly three years ago.
But the British leader insisted, “The stronger the relationship between our countries, the more we’ll be able to have a serious dialogue” on areas of disagreement, including human rights. Xi addressed those concerns, saying his country “attaches great importance to human rights,” but only on a “path suited to China’s conditions.”
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Another concern is the security of Britain’s nuclear power industry, given the possibility that China, widely suspected of stealing other countries’ intellectual property, might set its sights on British technology and that of Électricité de France (EDF), a major European nuclear contractor that will build the Hinkley facility, Britain’s first new nuclear power plant since Japan’s Fukushima disaster in 2011.
Britain’s nuclear industry is controlled by complex computer networks that may be vulnerable to hackers, Caroline Baylon, who studies electronic security at Britain’s Chatham House think tank, told The New York Times. “China would gain access to information that would give it more insight into the vulnerabilities in the UK’s critical infrastructure,” she said.
Government officials have dismissed such concerns, saying that CGN’s minority control in the Hinkley and Sizewell facilities will limit its access to critical information and that the government in London would strictly regulate China’s involvement in the country’s nuclear power industry.
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A former adviser to Cameron, Steve Hilton, condemned Xi’s visit in broader terms, saying the British government ought to be imposing sanctions on China for “vicious political oppression” and its “relentless cyberattacks,” instead of “rolling out the red carpet” for the Chinese leader.
“The truth is that China is a rogue state just as bad as Russia or Iran, and I just don’t understand why we’re sucking up to them rather than standing up to them as we should be,” Hilton said.
Among the other deals reached by Cameron and Xi is one worth more than $4 billion in which China will build cruise ships for Carnival Corp., and a gas deal worth $10 billion between the Chinese power utility Huadian and the British energy giant BP.
By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com
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Andy Tully is a veteran news reporter who is now the news editor for Oilprice.com