The forecast for British-Chinese relations in 2018: a storm on the horizon
Martin Thorley , 13 Jan 18
       

EPA/How Hwee Young

As vague, well-worn pronouncements on the rise of China give way to the complex reality of increasing Chinese power, a number of countries have begun to seriously consider the influence of the Party-State within their own borders. The factors that have triggered debate in countries such as Australia and New Zealand are also to be found in the UK. Yet at the same time, Brexit changes the calculus of engagement. Britain is soliciting more trade and investment from further afield. The upshot might well be a tumultuous year for British-Chinese relations.

From Chinese tech giant Huawei’s courting of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats during their coalition government, to the astonishing decision to move forward with the French-Chinese backed Hinkley Point C nuclear power station, there is no shortage of links that merit further scrutiny.

In the course of my own research, it’s been fascinating to observe how the Hinkley Point project has united all manner of experts (engineers, physicists, environmentalists, China specialists, business analysists) in fierce criticism of the project as it stands. Despite serious doubts over the practicality of the project that saw two of French energy giant EDF’s directors resign in protest, as well as widespread claims that it was a terrible deal for British consumers, supporters eventually pushed the deal through. Chinese state-run China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) will own a third of the project, with plans to lead construction of further nuclear power stations in the UK.


The Hinkley deal is signed in 2016. PA/Philip Toscano
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The deal is only a small part of a wider phenomenon. Though increased interactions with China, including trade and investment, are to be welcomed, there are a growing number of elite linkages developing in tandem. Rather than seeking out characters in Le Carré novels, the focus should be on strategic influence that impels certain behaviour. As ever more numerous debates around the globe attest, the reach of the Chinese Party-State is becoming problematic.

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