China warns UK relations are at 'historical juncture' over Hinkley Point

Ambassador to Britain stresses need for trust as PM’s attitude to controversial nuclear project remains unclear

China has said that its relations with the UK are at a “crucial historical juncture” amid doubts over the future of the controversial Hinkley Point C nuclear power station.

The intervention by the Chinese ambassador to the United Kingdom comes after the British government’s decision last month to delay final approval of the project, which is receiving major financial support from China.

“If Britain’s openness is a condition for bilateral co-operation, then mutual trust is the very foundation on which this is built,” Liu Xiaoming wrote in an article for the Financial Times, in which he placed the project at the centre of Britain’s evolving trade relationship with China.

“Right now, the China-UK relationship is at a crucial historical juncture. Mutual trust should be treasured even more. I hope the UK will keep its door open to China and that the British government will continue to support Hinkley Point – and come to a decision as soon as possible so that the project can proceed smoothly.”

The prime minister Theresa May is thought to have ordered a delay owing to concerns about the role of China General Nuclear, which has a one-third stake in the Hinkley project. Comments by May’s chief of staff, Nick Timothy, last year have led to claims that the delay has been prompted by concerns that Chinese state-owned companies were being allowed to invest in sensitive infrastructure.

While not specifically addressing those concerns, Liu said that “security” was central to the debate surrounding the project, adding that the UK has “a state-of-the-art supervision regime and legal system”.

The article comes in the wake of wider doubts about the future of the close relationship with China that David Cameron and George Osborne had heavily promoted.

The ambassador, who said that Chinese companies have invested more in the UK than in Germany, France and Italy combined over the past five years, concluded by stating that it “has not been easy for China and the UK to have come this far”.

“As long as both sides cherish what has been achieved and continue to expand and deepen our co-operation across the board, bilateral relations will maintain their strong momentum and work for the wellbeing of both the Chinese and British people,” Liu said.

Meanwhile, French unions have said that the decision by energy firm EDF to invest in Hinkley Point should be declared invalid.

Three unions at the French state-owned firm said senior board members knew the British government was considering delaying its final decision on Hinkley, but nothing was said before last month’s vote on whether EDF should back the project.

Jean-Bernard Lévy, the chairman and chief executive of EDF, wrote to board members last week, saying he knew about the delay before the board met to approve building and co-funding the first British nuclear site in a generation. Just hours before a signing ceremony was due to take place at the site in Somerset May quashed hopes that Hinkley would go ahead by putting off government approval until early autumn.

Unions said they believed some board members knew of the likely delay, meaning the board’s approval – by 10 votes to seven – should be overturned. “Our three unions denounce this information asymmetry,” they said in a joint statement.

“They therefore consider that the board’s Hinkley Point decision, taken on the basis of incomplete information, is null and void.”

The unions, CGT, CFE-CGC and FO, said the UK government’s supposed desire for a swift resolution had been cited by EDF’s leadership as a key reason to vote in favour of the project. The moderate CFDT union, which also represents EDF employees, did not sign the statement.

But Lévy told executives he believed May only wanted a few more days, and EDF said he had not been aware of any plan to push back the decision to autumn. EDF said it knew at the time of the boardroom vote only that a signing ceremony planned for the day after the meeting was to be delayed.

“Reading the entire internal email sent on 2 August by the chairman and CEO of EDF to members of the executive committee confirms unambiguously that when the company’s board of directors was held, EDF and its chairman had no knowledge of the intention of the British government to conduct a further review of the Hinkley Point project,” EDF said.

“All that was known before the press statement issued by the British government on July 28 was that the signing ceremony originally proposed for Friday, 29 July, would be postponed.

“This potential date of signature had not been confirmed, and therefore had not been communicated either to the board nor the market. There was therefore no requirement to communicate its postponement.”


Ben Quinn

The GuardianTramp

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