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Nuclear, gas - fuels of mutual benefit

By Alan Shanks and Nick Emmerson | China Daily Europe | Updated: 2013-12-06 10:01

Energy investments have played a big role in furthering bilateral ties between China and UK

Chinese investment, especially in the UK energy sector, is a good example of how mutual benefits can be achieved through foreign direct investment.

For example, in November it was announced that a consortium of investors, including the Chinese General Nuclear Power Group, had struck a deal worth about 16 billion pounds ($26 billion; 19 billion euros) to construct a nuclear power plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset. It has been estimated that the new power plant will provide a significant part of the UK's energy needs by the early 2020s.

Hinkley Point offers a win-win situation for both countries. It is good news for the UK, given the impending gap in the UK's generation capacity when current coal-fired power stations are retired shortly. For China, it is a great opportunity to export its nuclear technology in a conducive regulatory environment.

The benefits of investment for China are not limited to increased business activity in the UK. The rapid growth in domestic energy demand means that Chinese businesses are looking to invest in overseas energy projects with a view to importing energy back home.

It has been estimated that China's growing energy demand would result in oil imports going up from 2.5 million barrels a day in 2005 to more than 9.2 million barrels a day by 2020. It is therefore not surprising that Chinese businesses are already investing in the mature North Sea hydrocarbon sector.

Last year, Chinese oil and gas giant Sinopec struck a $1.5 billion deal with Talisman Energy to acquire a 49 percent stake in the Canadian-listed company's assets in the UK sector of the North Sea. These significant investments have provided a huge vote of confidence for the UK offshore hydrocarbon industry and also helped improve oil and gas output in the UK.

A convergence in Chinese and UK energy policies is also fueling greater Chinese investment in the UK energy sector. Both governments are keen to advance the production of low-carbon energy. A Chinese wind turbine producer may, for example, benefit from Chinese government-sponsored export credit initiatives to sell turbines to UK buyers, who then benefit from UK government subsidies to feed green energy into the National Grid.

It is not only large state-owned Chinese companies that are investing in the UK for these reasons. Small and medium-sized private companies are also taking advantage of the UK's seemingly insatiable appetite for green energy, particularly from wind. Shanghai-based wind turbine producer Ghrepower, for example, set up a UK branch in 2011, and since then has been selling 50kW and 100kW turbines across the UK.

Investment by large and small companies alike demonstrates the varied reasons for Chinese investment in the UK. From securing energy resources for a rapidly expanding domestic market to creating jobs in the UK and meeting green energy targets in both countries, Chinese investment in the UK energy sector has been mutually beneficial.

"China's modernization program will create historic opportunities for mutually beneficial cooperation between the 2 billion people of China and Europe, including those in the UK," Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said during the 16th China-EU Summit in Beijing on Nov 26.

Li's remarks clearly indicate that more investment in the UK is on the cards.

One estimate puts the amount of Chinese investment in the UK since 2005 at $17.8 billion, with some $4.9 billion of this in the energy sector. Last year saw the greatest amount of investment yet with $6.2 billion invested across the country.

The China-EU Summit comes hot on the heels of recent trade visits to China by a number of UK politicians, including Boris Johnson, the mayor of London; George Osborne, the UK chancellor; and Alex Salmond, the Scottish first minister, all championing investment in the UK. It is therefore no surprise that the UK tops the list of EU states in terms of Chinese investment.

Indeed, the idea of creating a win-win situation for both countries was echoed by the Chinese premier at the China-EU Summit when he said that "we need to continue to work together and help each other".

The translation of this political desire into business activity will fuel mutual benefits for the UK and China for years to come.

The authors are partners of the UK-based law firm Gateley.

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