Chinese firm agrees 6-billion-pound stake in British nuclear plant

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Chinese nuclear power firm CGN has agreed to invest some 6 billion pounds (9 billion dollars) in a British nuclear power plant, the highlight of several deals announced as Prime Minister David Cameron and Chinese President Xi Jinping held talks on Wednesday.

Cameron hailed the agreement for the investment in the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant to be built by French energy giant EDF by 2025 at an initial cost of 18 billion pounds.

Accused of ignoring China’s human rights abuses as he courts trade and investment, Cameron said he “totally rejects the idea” that the two aspects can be separate in diplomatic talks.

“My contention is that you can have both [discussions], indeed you must have both,” he said following talks with Xi.

EDF said its controversial deal with state-run CGN, or China General Nuclear Power Corporation, for two reactors at the Hinkley Point C site in south-western England paves the way for the potential use of Chinese nuclear technology in another plant to be built at Bradwell in Essex, close to London.

“Today marks a big step forward for EDF’s 30-year partnership with our Chinese partner CGN,” said Jean-Bernard Levy, EDF’s chairman.

“Our ambitious nuclear projects are strongly supported by the governments of the UK, China and France and they will bring benefits to all three countries,” Levy said.

Critics have raised security and safety concerns over Chinese participation in Britain’s nuclear industry, but CGN’s chairman, He Yu, said his firm is “committed to delivering safe, cost efficient, and sustainable energy and to supporting the UK’s goal of becoming a low-carbon society.”

Under pressure from opposition politicians, Cameron said he raised with Xi the alleged dumping of cheap Chinese steel on the global market.

China was already reducing steel production and would take further measures, Xi said at a joint press event with Cameron.

“You can just imagine our task in finding jobs for the [Chinese steel] workers,” Xi said after a British journalist asked the two leaders a question about job losses in Britain’s steel industry.

Cameron said earlier that he expected the total value of trade and investment deals to be signed during Xi’s three-day visit to be some 30 billion pounds.

The Bank of England said it had agreed with China’s central bank to expand a currency swap agreement to a maximum of 350 billion yuan (55 billion dollars), up from 200 billion yuan, and extend the deal for three years.

“The renewal of this swap line and its increased size reflect the constructive approach that the Bank of England and the People’s Bank of China are taking to support the development of an effective and resilient renminbi market in London,” said Mark Carney, the bank’s governor.

The Chinese currency is the renminbi, like British sterling, while the unit is the yuan, like the pound.

In another agreement announced early Wednesday, Cameron said Britain would ease visa rules and reduce costs to make travel “easier and more convenient for Chinese visitors.”

The move is “great news for our tourism industry and great news for the British economy enabling us to maximize Chinese spending power even further,” he said.

Chinese tourists, who numbered more than 300,000 last year, contribute some 500 million pounds annually to the British economy, the government said.

Xi also visited London’s science-focussed Imperial College on Wednesday with Chancellor George Osborne, who last month urged Chinese firms to bid for seven contracts worth a combined 11.8 billion pounds to build a high-speed railway.

Later Wednesday, Xi and Cameron will attend a UK-China Business Summit to focus on “investment, infrastructure and innovation,” officials said.

The Chinese Communist Party leader was given a royal welcome on Tuesday as he began the first state visit to Britain by a Chinese leader for a decade.

He was greeted by human rights and Free Tibet protesters, but they were outnumbered by thousands of supporters who cheered as Xi travelled with Queen Elizabeth into London’s Buckingham Palace.

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