Today’s Conversation in Economics is on Chinese infrastructure investment in the UK. Last week the main announcement during an official visit to the UK of Chinese president, Xi Jinping, was a one third stake in the development of a new nuclear plant at Hinkley Point. This follows on from other recent investments, or expressions of interest, in parts of the UK’s rail network (HS2), and other infrastructure projects.
There is so much to discuss about these investments; many question why it is necessary to secure funding from China for large investment projects, particularly as interest rates remain very low (c.f. Corbyn’s People’s QE which attempts by a different (and inflationary) method to do the same thing).
It is clearly a reflection of the emerging economic power of China, which became the world’s largest economy in 2014. In addition, its regular and massive trade surpluses have left it in a position with lots of “cash in the bank”, so to speak.
With regard China’s investments in the UK (we’re 8th on its list of favourite places to invest), another criticism is that it’s nationalisation – just by China, rather than the UK: “The government will indeed put some of our most vital infrastructure under state control – but the states in question will be France and China.” Of course, the reality that China takes a one-third stake in Hinkley Point is ignored. Also ignored are the huge costs and uncertainties involves in investing such an epic amount of money (£24bn!), without knowing what the outcomes will be in however many years it is until the plant is operational.
Hence, an alternative take here is that actually, the UK does well. We get other countries to stump up the finance for a cripplingly expensive infrastructure project. The Chinese see it as beneficial, as must the UK government, else one party of the two negotiating would not agree to it, and the trade would not occur.