UK Delays Hinkley Point Contract over Security Concerns with Chinese Contractors

On July 29, the government of Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May announced an unexpected delay in the approval of the Hinkley Point nuclear power plant contract over security concerns related to the role of Chinese state-owned enterprises in this critical national infrastructure project.  According to reports, some 150 senior officials associated with the project, including the Chairman of the China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGNPC), had gathered for a celebratory lunch at Hinkley Point, when they were informed of the decision.  The lunch was promptly canceled.

Concerns about the potential risks associated with the prominent role of Chinese companies (some 33% ownership stake) in the French-led project had previously been articulated by PM May’s current Joint Chief of Staff, Nick Timothy, who warned that China could “build weaknesses into computer systems which will allow them to shut down Britain‘s energy production at will.”  Mr. Timothy has also, in the past, reiterated the concerns of MI5 that China’s security services “continue to work against UK interests at home and abroad.”  The Prime Minister has also been outspoken about the security risks associated with Chinese investment in the country’s critical infrastructure during her time as Home Secretary 

As the ambitions of Chinese enterprises expand globally, the implications of their being state-owned and/or state-controlled with material, elaborate ties to China’s intelligence and security communities are becoming more problematic.  With respect to CGNPC, for example, it is worth noting that the company is expected to play a central role in a project being led by China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC) to construct and deploy floating nuclear power platforms to provide electricity to its reclaimed, illegal islands in the South China Sea.  Should these marine nuclear power platforms be dispatched to any of the disputed islands (with some 20 reactors envisioned), it would, in effect, represent the militarization of this large-scale CGNPC undertaking in coordination with the People‘s Liberation Army ‘‘‘ with likely blow-back on the Hinkley Point project (should it go forward).