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UK-China relation attains new heights amidst doubts and criticism

Chinese President Xi Jinping is all set to sign a landmark deal with Britain worth billions, thrusting his nation into the heart of Britain’s civil nuclear industry. China’s leader is expected to put the seal on its contribution to what will be the first nuclear power plant to be built in the United Kingdom in decades. The leaders have hailed the brighter future of close ties between the two countries on Tuesday at the start of Chinese president’s four-day state visit to the UK. More than £30bn worth of deals between the UK and China are expected to be struck during Mr.Xi’s historic visit, including the Britain’s first nuclear plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset.

Britain rolled out the red carpet for the president, welcoming him with a 41-gun salute before he rode to Buckingham Palace in a gilded carriage with Queen Elizabeth. He and his wife, Peng Liyuan were welcomed by the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and Prime Minister David Cameron. The visit began with a day of pomp and ceremony, culminating in a dazzling state banquet in honor of the visiting head of state at which the Queen called his visit a “defining moment in this very special year” for a relationship which should reach “ambitious heights”.

But the lavish welcome given to the president was immediately criticized as a national humiliation by a former close advisor to the Prime Minister, who is under pressure to raise concerns about human rights and dumped cheap steel blamed for the loss of thousands of British jobs. Tata Steel has announced the latest in a series of cuts, with 1,200 jobs going at its plants in Scunthorpe and Lanarkshire. Some human right activists also raised concerns about the increasing coziness.

"We're not against trade," said David Mepham, the UK director for Human Rights Watch. "We're not against investment.

"But I think it is deeply disturbing that the British government appears to be saying this week that it just wants to talk about trade, and it just wants to talk about investment," Mepham said. "And moral issues and human rights concerns and people suffering at the hands of the Chinese state should be shunted to one side."

Mr. Xi is expected to make a statement on the planned Hinkley Point nuclear plant in Southwest England where Chinese investors would take a one-third stake. France’s EDF will be the lead contractor in the £24bn nuclear project along with the China Nuclear Power Corporation, but the UK government is backing it with £17bn of UK government loan guarantees. It is expected to be completed in 2025 – two years later than expected, and deliver 7 percent of the UK’s electricity. The project would reportedly create over 25,000 jobs and power six million homes, but is subject to approval by ministers.

The deal for China’s investment in the plant was secured by British Chancellor George Osborne during his trade visit to China last month. The Hinkley Point project has come under fire over its cost and the delays to investment decisions and the timeframe for building. The original plan was for Hinkley Point to start generating electricity by 2023 with EDF Chief Executive Officer Jean-Bernard Lévy signaling further delays in September. The government has also been criticized for guaranteeing a price of £92.50 per megawatt hour of electricity – more than twice the current cost – for what Hinkley produces.

Defense experts have also criticized the involvement of a communist nation in UK energy security, warning that plans to let the Chinese build a plant of their own design constitutes a threat to national security. Environmental campaigners have protested at the redeployment of nuclear technology, which produces toxic waste, which rival energy groups have branded the hefty subsidies on electricity costs promised to backers as being poor value for money.

The nuclear deal will finally be confirmed by the Chinese president tomorrow, with a final agreement coming before the end of the year. The two nations will publish investments and deals worth a huge amount of money, including a £50 million deal between Aston Martin and China Equity to develop its zero-emission RapidE sports car. There will also be a big cut in the cost of repeat-visit visas for Chinese tourists in the hope of attracting more high-spending visitors from the fast-expanding Far Eastern economy. Other deals on the agenda include media deals to distribute BBC and Chinese entertainment, and for London’s Victoria and Albert Museum to open a design museum in Shenzhen.

Image Courtesy: British Foreign and Commonwealth Office

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