After some hesitation on the government’s part, the UK is all set to build a big nuclear plant with French technology and Chinese money. Reuters reports:
Prime Minister Theresa May’s government signaled it would take a more cautious approach in future over foreign investment in big infrastructure projects than her predecessor David Cameron.
But ultimately, after stunning Paris and Beijing by putting the deal on hold in July after May took office, it agreed to go ahead with the Hinkley Point C project in southwest England. Britain’s first new nuclear power plant in decades will be built by French state-controlled utility firm EDF, backed by $8 billion of Chinese cash.
The deal is part of a recovery of the global nuclear power industry following a slump caused by the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan.
The government drew fire for approving it without renegotiating the price British consumers will pay for electricity. The opposition Labour Party supports the project in principle but says its guarantee to pay a minimum of roughly double the current market price for electricity for 35 years is a rip-off.
Many people thought Cameron’s eagerness to work with China was unbecoming and harmful to human rights. Theresa May has been the target of similar criticism.
What we wrote in October of last year, as David Cameron prepared to roll out the red carpet for Xi Jinping, is if anything even more true today:
The United States has not been hiding its displeasure at the United Kingdom’s warm reception of Chinese President Xi Jinping in London this week. From the standpoint of the U.S. and others, Britain is brashly dismissing concerns about human rights and undermining efforts to contain China’s rise.“If there is one truism in managing relations with a rising China, it is that if you give in to Chinese pressure, it will inevitably lead to more Chinese pressure”, warned a former advisor to President Obama.
It’s not necessarily an inaccurate criticism, but it’s worth putting it in some historical context: Waspophobes have long complained that the Brits are a bunch of heartless profiteers. Indeed, Britain gained access to China in part by exploiting the morally dubious opium trade, so there is an ironic appositeness to it overlooking China’s human rights record today.
Britain may well be getting itself into some trouble here; offer the Chinese an inch, and they’ll take the opportunity to seize a foot. Still, self-righteous world leaders shouldn’t simply criticize Cameron’s actions as naive or immoral. Opening Britain up to Chinese investors makes a lot of sense for the UK, particularly as London works to solidify its position as the financial capital of the world. Moreover, if the Brexit is a real possibility, Cameron is wise to line up some big non-European trading partners.
Critics may crow about Britain excessively kowtowing to the Chinese, and they may have a point about the inherent risks of doing so. But especially after Brexit, keeping Beijing at least nominally on side is not an insane policy—by a long shot.