Britain hosted a four-day state visit by China’s President Xi Jinping this week. He stayed the night in Buckingham Palace, addressed both houses of parliament and escorted Prime Minster David Cameron to Manchester. The visit was designed to unlock trade and investment deals worth £30bn, including money for the Hinkley Point nuclear power station, to be built in conjunction with the Chinese and France’s EDF.
China is to cover around a third of the cost, likely to be in the region of £5bn-£8bn. That would mark the largest inward investment in the UK on record. The government is also advertising high-speed rail contracts to China.
What the commentators said
Xi’s lavish reception shows that George Osborne and David Cameron are trying “to raise the bar of British self-abasement at the feet of foreign tyrants to a new level of yuck”, said Matthew Norman in The Independent. Hosting the Qataris and the Saudis has prepared us well for this latest display of “stomach-churning sycophancy towards distasteful foreign regimes”.
Britain is “taking a gamble” in seeking much closer ties with China, said the FT. The differences in the two states’ political systems, international political alliances and attitudes to human rights mean that “future ruptures are virtually assured”. Still, the potential commercial opportunity is big enough to justify “rolling out the reddest of red carpets”.
Really? I’m not convinced, said Fraser Nelson in The Spectator. Operating and building a nuclear power station in Britain “is quite a coup for China, which is not renowned for its expertise in this area”. Why do we need it when we have just discovered vast reserves of shale gas? More importantly, “worryingly little is said about the security concerns”. Being dependent on other countries for energy can be “extremely uncomfortable”, as Anthony Hilton pointed out in the Evening Standard. Just ask the Ukrainians, whose gas has continually been cut off by Russia.
China is also notorious for hacking other countries’ businesses, said Nelson. A cyberattack on a nuclear power station would be “unthinkable”. But Osborne’s “epic kowtow” has brushed all worries aside. He just wants money for “his own great leap forward”: big projects such as the Northern Powerhouse, Hinkley and high-speed rail.