On 30 July, the shocking news which hit the global nuclear industry was that the new British government headed by Theresa May announced further suspending on the China-France-UK nuclear project. Significantly, it was supposed to be day of the final contract signing.
How did the Chinese media react to this bitter-pill?
I spent some time scanning the local media in China and was quite surprised that the reaction was quite subdued. Initially I was certain the Chinese media would be out in full force to lambast the decision. This was not the case though.
The Global Times, a Chinese government newspaper had the headline – “The nuclear project testing the attitude toward China from the new UK government”. The article expressed the concern of the Sino-British relationship after Theresa May came to power. It quoted the comments from the UK Daily Mail that Theresa snubbed France, upset China and trashed Cameron’s legacy.
The Chinese Central Government’s publicity, Guang Ming Daily, published the news and revealed that based on the current situation, China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN) respects the decision of UK government, and CGN will continue to stand together with EDF and continue implementing the nuclear project in UK.
China’s Economic Daily analyzed the reason why Theresa’s cabinet made the decision. It might come from multiple aspects including the global low fossil fuel price, government budget in UK, and national safety issue etc.
However, the Economic Daily still hold an optimistic view. Theresa May visited France and met Francois Hollande after the Brexit on 21 July, Hinkley Point C nuclear project was one of the topics they discussed. After that, the board of EDF agreed to increase 4 billion euro capital in the company which was seen as a signal to achieve the UK nuclear project. On the other hand, the labor union of UK criticized the decision of May’s cabinet because it reduced at least 25,000 employment opportunities in UK.
Phoenix New Media interviewed one of the senior researcher of The Royal Institute of International Affairs Chatham, he said the main issue is the government finance. But it is even elusory after the new Chancellor of Exchequer Philip Hammond visited China last week.
China Business Network described it as Theresa’s fire. Theresa is conservative on foreign capital entering the British market. She was unsatisfied with the project when she was the Home Secretary of David Cameron. The former Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills Vince Cable told the reporter that the main disagreement of Theresa May is on the Chinese investment, Theresa hasn’t replied this statement yet.
The Brexit tells the world that today the new trend of anti-globalization is growing. To the nuclear industry of which the development is driven by the international trading and cooperation, as far as I am concerned, it is definitely not a right movement. According to the recent announcement, the new Prime Minister Theresa May’s attitude is clear, she is very prudent on the foreign investment in UK, so as for foreign students and workers. Thus, it is not hard to understand Theresa May suspending the final decision on Hinkley Point C nuclear power project. Besides, when she was the Home Secretary, her attitude towards China and Sino-British Relationship was not friendly as David Cameron. Even she hasn’t officially discussed about the future relationship between China and UK, it is more likely she will continue her conservative attitude at least in a short future.
Hinkley Point C nuclear project should be the first time China investing and involved in a mature nuclear market. Last year after signing the contract with UK and France, China gained the opportunity to export its nuclear industry to Romania and Argentina as well. The success on Hinkley Point C encouraged China in the global nuclear market a lot. However, it can also be the great blow to the Chinese nuclear industry instead if the project finally fails. I would like to see the current situation as a big challenge for China, not only for CGN or China’s nuclear industry, because the butterfly effect of the Hinkley Point C failure can be immeasurable.
While the current reactions of the Chinese to this disappointment is rather measured, it remains to be seen if this will continue to be the case. The Hinkley C project was seen by the Chinese as an important project on the international market. Let’s hope the suspension is a mere small blip.