G20 summit: Theresa May says UK-China relations are about more than 'Hinkley' as deal teeters on edge

The Prime Minister's comments came as she prepared for a meeting with the Chinese premier at the end of the G20 summit

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Monday 05 September 2016 21:23
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Theresa May has said the UK’s relations with China are “about more than Hinkley” as speculation mounted that the Prime Minister could pull back from the symbolically important £18bn nuclear scheme.

Ms May made the comments as she prepared for a meeting with Xi Jingpin, in which the Chinese President relieved a little pressure on her by saying he was willing to have “patience” in allowing her time to work out what she plans to do with the scheme his government has committed £6bn to.

The half-hour meeting that took place at the end of the G20 Summit in Hangzhou also saw Mr Xi say China would be “open” to bilateral trade arrangement.

A Chinese project at Hinkley power station is undergoing a security review 

It has already emerged that security around the planned nuclear power initiative at Hinkley is an issue officials are reviewing, and that at least one senior member of Mrs May’s team has serious reservations about the project.

Under the current deal which is yet to be signed, the Chinese would contribute funds towards building two reactors at Hinkley Point in a scheme led by French firm EDF, but it could then in turn lead to a further Chinese-designed power station at Bradwell in Essex.

The delay in finalising the agreement has threatened to overshadow Mrs May’s first major international summit, also her first visit to China. In Hangzhou, she and her team tried to move the story on UK/China relations off the Hinkley Point project and on to other areas.

At a G20 press conference, Mrs May said: “I’ve been clear that a decision about Hinkley will be taken later this month. But our relationship with China is about more than Hinkley, and if you look at the investment that there has been from China, in various other parts of the United Kingdom, other infrastructure and so forth in the UK, we have built a global strategic partnership with China.

“I’ve been clear we will be continuing that global strategic partnership with China. It is a golden era of relations between China and the UK.”

Downing Street officials highlighted data showing there has been £1.5bn of Chinese investment in the UK in recent months, including a £750m regeneration project in Sheffield and the £76m takeover of Aston Villa by Dr Tony Xia.

They also pointed out that 500,000 Chinese tourists come to Britain every year, that more Jaguar Land Rover cars are sold to China than anywhere else and that a quarter of all sales of Burberry products go to Chinese customers.

But the hesitation over Hinkley has become symbolic of whether the UK can take a further step in relations with China, from thinking of the country as a trading partner to considering it trustworthy with security issues.

After their bilateral meeting, a Downing Street official said: “[Mr Xi] said that he recognised the new Government would need to take some time for reaching decisions on some agreements pushed by the last Government.

“President Xi said that they had the patience to wait for a resolution on those issues.”

Hinkley was not directly named during the meeting, but it was understood by the Downing Street team that Mr Xi was referring to the nuclear power project.

In a bid to show, perhaps, what could be gained from a positive outcome to Hinkley, Mr Xi also said that they “wanted to look at how we could strengthen our trading and economic relationship and that China was open to a bilateral trade arrangement with the UK”.

It is already known that Mrs May’s senior advisor Nick Timothy has raised concerns over the idea of allowing the Chinese a part in such a crucial part of the UK’s national infrastructure as nuclear power.

Before Mrs May arrived in Downing Street he wrote a web-post noting concerns that “the Chinese could use their role to build weaknesses into computer systems which will allow them to shut down Britain’s energy production at will”.

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