It was recently revealed that the development of the British nuclear power point “Hinckley Point C” has ballooned by 23 billion pounds (US$29 billion) and is expected to be delayed by up to four years.
The revelation is a big blow to British infrastructure and adds to the country’s energy problems, which have grown in tandem with successive global crises and inflation.
However, one aspect that went completely ignored, although mentioned in The Guardian report, is that the astronomical increase in costs is due to the political decision to exclude China from the project.
The British “government took over China Nuclear Group’s stake in Hinkley’s proposed sister site, Sizewell C in Suffolk, stripping the Chinese state-owned company of its role in the project.” The move was politically driven, as has historically been the case with the United States’ external involvement, which has sought to prevent China from engaging in infrastructure projects in Western countries under the dubious guise of “national security.”
A similar dilemma arose when Britain barred Huawei from its 5G networks in 2020, again under American pressure, in a move that cost taxpayers tens of billions of dollars and set back the country’s 5G rollout and network infrastructure by years.
The fact that banning China General Nuclear Power Group from British infrastructure projects has resulted in this consequence is not surprising, since it is a rule of market dynamics. If you omit the most economical supplier from a given equation, you reduce supply while keeping demand unchanged, resulting in an overall price increase.
But there’s more to it than that; you’re giving up access to one of the world’s largest pools of skill and experience on the subject, which is a major contributor to escalating delays due to labor shortages.
The United Kingdom has frequently made political decisions to exclude China under American pressure, which contradicts its long-term national objectives in economic and infrastructure growth. If the UK refuses to recognize this, whether it is over Huawei or Nexperia’s takeover of the Newport Wafer Fabrication Plant in Wales, the US response is to essentially dig their heels in, make threats, and use coercion, as when Matthew Pottinger, deputy national security advisor to the then US president, reportedly yelled at the British Cabinet for five hours over Huawei. The British approach is always to give in and pay the bill themselves.
Often, this involves handing over the project in issue to the United States at a higher cost, as shown with the Newport Wafer Fab and another Nuclear Power Plant from which China was excluded. In other words, the US views anti-China politics and lobbying in Britain under the guise of “national security” as a means of advancing market exclusion, which they then profit from.
Paradoxically, the British government has frequently given in to these demands to secure a trade agreement with the United States, which the UK government regards as ideologically attractive. However, despite five years of appealing for one, the US has shown no interest in such a deal. This is because America is only interested in one-sided access to the British market and breaking down the regulatory framework.
This demonstrates the short-sightedness of British foreign policy. The British economy has been stagnant with no net growth over the last few years, with earnings falling, living costs rising. On its own, Britain has entirely failed in its ability to manage and build new infrastructure, with the High Speed 2 Railway’s costs ballooning and the government making the controversial decision to remove its northern leg.
While China is rapidly catching up in terms of infrastructure, the British insistence on excluding China at the US request is a clear case of “cutting one’s nose off to spite one’s face.” It is futile, costly, and a form of self-harm that stifles progress in an already suffering economy that was once one of the world’s greatest.
(The author, a postgraduate student of Chinese studies at Oxford University, is an English analyst on international relations. The views are his own.)