Britain will not “pitchfork away” Chinese investment, despite strained relations between London and Beijing, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in an interview published before a global financing conference on Tuesday.
Ties have frayed because of criticisms about China’s crackdown on its Uyghur minority and creeping authoritarianism in Hong Kong, a former British colony.
But Johnson stressed Britain would not be “naive” over China’s access to critical national infrastructure (CNI) like nuclear power stations and superfast 5G networks.
Britain, which hosts the COP26 UN climate summit next month, will later unveil foreign investment totalling £9.7 billion (US$13.3 billion, 11.4 billion euros) to support green economic growth.
“I’m not going to tell you the UK government is going to pitchfork away every overture from China,” Johnson said in an interview with Bloomberg published late on Monday.
“China is a gigantic part of our economic life and will be for a long time — for our lifetime.
“But that does not mean that we should be naive in the way we look at our critical national infrastructure — you mention nuclear power, you mention 5G technology — those are all legitimate concerns for any government.”
Johnson added that the UK would retain a “cautious” approach over China, which the government has described as a “systemic competitor” but a key player in tackling international issues such as climate change.
“We should be cautious about how we handle our CNI and about how we handle FDI (foreign direct investment) from China …. that is why we have brought in some of the legislation that we have,” he added.
He insisted trade links would continue to grow, despite tensions over the controversial AUKUS defence pact with Australia and the United States, which is widely viewed as a response to a rising China in the Indo-Pacific region.
“I am no Sino-phobe, very far from it. China is a great country, a great civilisation,” Johnson added.
“In spite of all the difficulties, in spite of all the difficult conversations about the Dalai Lama or Hong Kong or the Uyghurs — where we will continue to stick to our views — trade with China has continued to expand for a very long time.”
As well as the Uyghurs and Hong Kong, claims of espionage and cyberattacks have strained relations between London and Beijing.
Britain also stoked Chinese anger last year by banning Chinese telecoms group Huawei from involvement in its 5G network after the United States raised spying fears.
It is reportedly nearing a deal with France’s EDF to force China’s state-owned nuclear firm CGN to offload its stake in the Sizewell C nuclear power station in eastern England.
CGN is meanwhile working alongside EDF in the construction of a new nuclear power plant at Hinkley Point, in southwest England.
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