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

Men work at the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station site near Bridgwater in Britain, on Aug 4, 2016.
Men work at the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station site near Bridgwater in Britain, on Aug 4, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (AFP) - China's ambassador to Britain urged London on Tuesday (Aug 9) to approve a Beijing-funded nuclear power plant as soon as possible, warning that relations between the two countries were at "crucial historical juncture".

"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 £18-billion (S$31.5-billion) project to build Hinkley Point, the country's first new nuclear plant in a generation.

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

Analysts warned 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.

Chinese state media had reacted to the delay by saying it "adds uncertainties to the 'Golden Era' of China-UK ties" - but the Ambassador's comments go further.

The delay on a final decision, which is now expected in September, appeared to mark a change in attitude by new Prime Minister Theresa May.

Her predecessor, Mr David Cameron, who stepped down after the Brexit vote, had made ties with Beijing central to his economic policy.

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

One of Mrs May's top aides has also previously raised the issue of a potential threat to Britain's national security.