China warns UK over nuclear plant delay: Ties at 'crucial juncture'

LONDON • Britain has defended its decision to review a planned £18 billion (S$32 billion) nuclear power project after criticism from China which is helping to fund the deal.

China, which has cautioned Britain against closing the door to Chinese investment, yesterday said ties were at a crucial juncture after new Prime Minister Theresa May delayed signing off on the project.

A British government spokesman said in a statement: "This decision is about a huge infrastructure project and it's right that the new government carefully considers it. We cooperate with China on a broad range of areas, from the global economy to international issues, and we will continue to seek a strong relationship with China."

The statement came after China's ambassador to Britain urged London to approve the nuclear power plant as soon as possible.

"Right now, the China-UK relationship is at a crucial historical juncture. Mutual trust should be treasured even more," Mr Liu Xiaoming wrote in an article in The Financial Times newspaper.

"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."

On July 28, Britain's new government said it was delaying final approval of the project to build Hinkley Point, the country's first new nuclear plant in a generation.

The China General Nuclear Power Group is due to take a £6 billion stake in the project, which will be led by French energy giant EDF.

Analysts have warned that the delay could jeopardise ties between Britain and China, the world's second-biggest economy, at a time when London needs to build strong trade ties following its vote to leave the European Union.

A final decision is now expected in September. There have been reports that concerns about Chinese involvement in a UK nuclear power station were the primary reason for Mrs May's postponing of the deal.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 10, 2016, with the headline 'China warns UK over nuclear plant delay: Ties at 'crucial juncture''. Print Edition | Subscribe