By Dr David Lowry. Last week David Cameron met his Chinese counterpart, Li Keqiang, in London, following his own visit to China last autumn. On their agenda was Chinese interest in investing in the UK nuclear industry via two state-owned Chinese nuclear companies and the Chinese State investment bank.
The key passage in the agreement reads: “The UK Government welcomes investment and participation from Chinese companies in the Hinkley Point C project and progressive involvement more generally in the UK’s new build nuclear energy programme. This could include leading the development of other nuclear power station site(s) in the UK and the potential deployment of Chinese reactor technology in the UK, subject to meeting the stringent requirements of the UK’s independent nuclear regulators.”
Before he went to China, in Prime Minister’s question time on 30 October last year, David Cameron kept up his consistent position on the energy security merits of the Hinkley Point C nuclear deal, telling a Labour MP:
“…in terms of energy security .. he backed a Government who in 13 years never built a single nuclear power station. Oh, they talked about it—boy, did they talk about it—but they never actually got it done. In terms of Chinese and French investment, I think we should welcome foreign investment into our country, building these important utilities so that we can use our firepower for the schools, the hospitals, the roads and the railways we need.”
But Will Hutton, formerly a stockbroker economics journalist and Observer editor, now Principal of Hertford College, Oxford, was excoriating in his appraisal of the deal done with Chinese companies to support Hinkley C. In an Observer column titled “George Osborne in China – Wide-eyed, innocent and deeply ignorant”- published on 20 October last year – he argued that Britain must be an open trading nation, welcoming inward investment just as it seeks to invest in others. But prostituting one’s security and economic interests to a country whose values, practices and interests, he went on “are wholly at odds with one’s own is not openness but recklessness.”