Something that would once have been unthinkable took another step towards becoming reality last month just 40 miles east of London on the Essex coast. Britain’s nuclear watchdog nudged a Chinese reactor a step closer to being allowed to operate in the UK, sending it through the “initial high-level scrutiny” phase. It will eventually be built at Bradwell-on-Sea. Much tougher hurdles lie ahead, but regulators have so far been able to find no reason to block China General Nuclear’s HPR1000. This is the dilemma facing Britain — one that has been thrown into stark relief by the events of the past week. The arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of telecoms giant Huawei, means all that must be seen through a different lens. The daughter of Huawei’s founder was arrested in Canada at the behest of the US authorities and faces charges of fraud and breaching US sanctions on Iran. However, the tone on Chinese investment in Britain has now changed and recalls the words of Theresa May’s former adviser Nick Timothy in 2015, when he said the government was “selling our national security to China”. A deep-seated suspicion of Huawei at GCHQ has finally surfaced as open hostility, while, coincidentally, BT is removing Huawei technology from its 4G mobile network. Yet all this looks remarkably like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. If there was a time to reject Chinese investment, it was 20 years ago. Now, with ministers reliant on Chinese cash to fund a significant slice of our future power needs, do they dare bite the hand that feeds? Plus, in a post-Brexit world, a trade deal with China is meant to top the priority list. For all the braggadocio, I suspect there will be much soothing talk between London and Beijing in the months ahead. Does the government really think it can put the Chinese dragon back in the bottle? And can it afford to?
Times 9th Dec 2018 read more »