In part one of this two-part analysis, I suggested that the troubled western response to Chinese party-state influence is to a significant degree, a consequence of capitalisation and corporate influence inside government. Here, I depart from theory, employing an investigative research approach to examine what this means in practice. I consider the case of Chinese party-state involvement in the construction of Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in the UK. The British government’s decision to proceed with the project, despite the warnings of security experts and allies, reveals the ascendency of financial considerations over traditionally more statist concerns such as national security. Part one of this analysis touched upon the divide within the British government over how to engage with the People’s Republic of China (PRC). A victory for the treasury over security specialists allowed the British government to sign an agreement between parties that meant the PRC would part-fund Hinkley as the junior partner with French energy group EDF as the senior partner. But this agreement contained a clause that the PRC could go on to build a nuclear power station using its own technology at Bradwell, taking on operational leadership. The then chancellor George Osborne’s assertion during a visit to Beijing made this clear. He explained that PRC involvement in Hinkley “opens the door for majority Chinese ownership of a subsequently nuclear project in Bradwell”. This decision left the UK’s regional and security allies aghast, with many wondering how such a decision could have been reached. As with the other case studies I investigate in my PhD thesis, excavation of the network that enabled the deal to go through reveals a large number of commercial actors with leverage over the process. These actors stood to benefit from the deal’s successful completion. In this light and according to these actors, the PRC security aspect is simply an additional factor to be managed in order to secure greater shareholder value.
Asia Dialogue 19th Dec 2019 read more »