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China warns UK ties at 'crucial juncture' over nuclear plant

August 9, 2016

China's ambassador to Britain has urged London to approve the Beijing-funded Hinkley Point nuclear power plant as soon as possible. Liu Xiaoming warned that relations between the two countries were at a critical point.

England Atomkraftwerk Hinkley Point
Image: Getty Images/M. Cardy

In an article for the "Financial Times" newspaper on Tuesday, Chinese ambassador Liu Xiaoming wrote that the China-UK relationship is at a "crucial historical juncture."

"Mutual trust should be treasured even more," Liu said.

"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."

Liu's warning on Tuesday, follows the British government's decision in July to delay the final approval of the £18-billion (21-billion-euro, $23 billion) project to build Hinkley Point.

Delayed deal

The financing deal between China and the UK was signed in Downing Street last year during a state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The planned nuclear power plant in Somerset, southwestern England, would be the UK's first new plant in a generation.

The Hinkley Point C project has already been delayed several times following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.

Questions to be answered in UK

A final decision on the nuclear power plant is now expected in September. The delay appears to mark a change in attitude by Britain's new Prime Minister Theresa May, however, who, unlike her predecessor David Cameron, has indicated a much more cautious view of Chinese investment.

Theresa May
British PM Theresa May has ruffled China's feathers after delaying the nuclear plant dealImage: picture alliance/AP images/Sight

There are also questions in the UK over whether Hinkley Point represents value for money and regarding its environmental credentials.

The environmental campaigning group Greenpeace has been campaigning against building Hinkley Point C, describing it as "the most expensive object on earth," while one of May's top aides has also previously raised the issue of a potential threat to Britain's national security.

End of 'Golden Era'?

Analysts have already warned the delay could jeopardize ties between Britain and China, the world's second biggest economy, particularly at a time when London needs to build strong trade ties following the EU referendum in June which saw 52 percent of the UK vote in favor of leaving the EU.

Following the announcement of the delay last month, Chinese official news agency "Xinhua" said the decision "adds uncertainties to the 'Golden Era' of China-UK ties."

China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN) is due to take a £6-billion (7 billion Euros) stake in the project, which will be led by French energy giant EDF.

Divided opinion in France

The project has caused controversy in France, however, dividing the top management of EDF and sparking strong opposition from trade unions, which fear it might bankrupt the utility, in which the state has a 85-percent stake.

French President Francois Hollande backs EDF's involvement, but a statement issued by his Socialist party late Monday suggested a cooling of support.

Noting the importance of the project for EDF's future prospects, it said "all questions and reservations should be resolved before going further."

ksb/bw (Reuters, AFP)