It seems that the Johnson government is getting cold feet about Chinese involvement in the building of Britain’s new nuclear power stations, whereby China puts up a share of the money for Hinkley Point C and Sizewell (whose reactors are being designed and built by EDF of France), and then build their own (Chinese) reactor at Bradwell in Essex. The deal is the legacy of the Cameron-Osborne ‘golden age’ trade deal with China.
Johnson has no problem with selling strategic national assets to the Chinese or letting them manage our strategic infrastructure. The last significant British manufacturer of microchips, Newport Wafer Fab, has just been sold off to them, and it was only American pressure that forced a U-turn over involving Huawei in Britain’s 5G network. The Chinese are now the major funders of high-tech start-ups in Britain. British steel was acquired by the Chinese last year. Our innovative ideas and cutting-edge technology flow one-way through a virtual pipeline direct to Beijing. No problem at all.
It is just that, according to Whitehall sources last week, the government is concerned that the building of a controlled nuclear bomb (which is essentially what a nuclear reactor is) by the Chinese 30 miles from London might be ‘politically unpalatable’. In other words, it might look bad. The public might just get the idea that Johnson and his friends care nothing for the national interest or our national security; that their sole interest is in the profits, share dividends, consultancy fees and kickbacks that are generated in the City of London – that is, to them and their friends – by the sell-off of our assets, often to private equity firms with anonymous funders. And no-one wants that. The problem is that if the Chinese do not put up the money, the British government may have to instead, and it is already mortgaged to the hilt with record borrowing. We await with interest to see how they square the circle on this one.
Yes, the Chinese have played the long game and played it well, dumping under-priced manufactures on world markets, running huge trade surpluses (which are mirrored in other countries’ deficits), and using their foreign currency earnings to buy up strategic foreign assets via the so-called Belt and Road Initiative. Revenge for the humiliation of the Opium Wars cannot be far off and it will be sweet.
The Australian experience of Chinese investment ought to have been a warning to us. Last year, the CCP’s flagship news daily the Global Times memorably described Australia as ‘chewing gum on China’s boot’, and all because Australia dared call for an independent inquiry into the origin of the pandemic. But Johnson, a declared ‘Sinophile’ – what is there not to like about Chinese money? – is keen for normal trading relations to resume.
Never mind belt and road. It is bondage, and we are the willing victim.