World / Economic Cooperation

Investments to help UK update infrastructure

By ANDREW MOODY in London (China Daily Europe) Updated: 2015-10-23 14:16

President Xi Jinping's visit is set to result in 30 billion pounds ($46.2 billion) of investment in the UK.

These investments will take in nuclear power, high speed rail, oil, electric buses, theme parks and investment in research and development of the new wonder material graphene.

If China becomes more deeply involved in providing long term finance to the UK's infrastructure, particularly the proposed HS2 high speed rail link and commuter services around Manchester to facilitate Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne's Northern Powerhouse, total investments could exceed 100 billion pounds, according to some forecasts.

The major advantage to the UK in accepting this new source of long term finance is reducing its borrowing needs, so that the fiscal deficit can be eradicated and converted into a surplus on target by 2019-20.

Gareth Leather, Asia economist at Capital Economics, a London based consultancy, believes the Chinese money is opportune.

"The one thing the UK government is not prepared to do at the moment is borrow more money, since its key mission is to bring the deficit down. These deals allow long term investment in British infrastructure projects without having to pay upfront for them," he said.

He said few Western countries other than Britain, having built a reputation as an open economy, would be so relaxed about Chinese investment.

"In France, for example, there would be so much controversy about the selling off of state assets. One of the reasons why the UK can fund such a huge current account deficit is because it is open for foreigners buying up its assets."

George Magnus, an associate at the Dickson Poon China Centre at Oxford University, is skeptical about whether the UK needs to be so enthusiastic about accepting the cash.

"Thirty billion pounds in terms of the UK economy is neither here nor there, since it is not a particularly onerous proportion of GDP, so why couldn't the government just issue gilts at low rates of interest," he said.

China's 1.8 billion pound investment in Hinkley Point nuclear power station has proved the most controversial, with some groups in the UK fearing that it is a potential threat to national security.

Simon Walker, director general at the Institute of Directors, one of the UK's biggest business member organizations, believes this is not the case.

"Companies around the world are hungry to invest in Britain and can bring the skills and capital needed to deliver major infrastructure like new power plants. We welcome investment in nuclear energy, whether it comes from China, France, Japan, South Korea or anywhere else," he said.

Magnus at Oxford, however, said there are concerns because it is the Chinese government rather than commercial companies involved.

"French company EDF are part owners of Hinkley power station, and nobody questions this. I think it is the identification with the Chinese state that is the issue. We are quite happy doing deals with Chinese companies like Huawei and Alibaba."

Stephen Glaister, professor emeritus at Imperial College London and one of the UK's leading authorities on infrastructure, said it is still unclear what form the Chinese involvement will take.

"HS2, according to its own forecasts, will make a 30 billion pound loss, so the UK government will have to form some separate investible entity, otherwise the Chinese will effectively just be making loans to the project and not investing in it."

He said, however, that no one should have any qualms about the Chinese being involved in the construction and supplying of the technology for high speed rail, if

this proves to be the case.

"It would all be subject to UK safety approvals, which are very strict. The number of accidents per passenger mile in the UK is the best in Europe by a long way, and

that is because we are very strict in testing and certification."

JohnRoss, a senior fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China and a former director of economic policy for the mayor of London, says the proposed investments in the UK reflect China's new role as a financial superpower.


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