20 April 2019
Britain put economic interests above Hong Kong people's concerns as it facilitated the Daya Bay nuclear power project in the 1980s, newly released documents show.
Britain put economic interests above Hong Kong people's concerns as it facilitated the Daya Bay nuclear power project in the 1980s, newly released documents show.

Britain had its own interests in mind in Daya Bay project

Britain may have put aside Hong Kong’s interests as it pursued the controversial nuclear power station project in Guangdong’s Daya Bay around the same time when it held negotiations on the Sino-British Joint Declaration in the 1980s, newly unclassified British documents suggest.

Documents from UK’s National Archives show that the British foreign ministry had advised the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to discuss with Chinese leaders the Daya Bay nuclear project the same morning when the Sino-British Joint Declaration was signed in 1984, Apple Daily reported.

A noting on a file that “the content of these talks will not be public, and thus there would not be the same presentational risks vis-a-vis Hong Kong” adds to the evidence that Britain had its sights set on the economic benefits it could reap, the report said Wednesday.

The Daya Bay nuclear station project was initiated by the Guangdong provincial government in the early 1980s in a joint-venture between the local administration and Hong Kong’s CLP Holdings Ltd. (0002.HK).

Many Hongkongers had concerns that the nuclear station could pose safety risks. However, Britain apparently overrode those concerns, as it was focused more on the contracts that it could gain.

While the Pressurized Water Reactor systems for the nuclear station were bought from France, the actual components were provided by a UK-based General Electric Co. (GEC) affiliate.

The documents also revealed that Sir Geoffrey Howe, then Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, and Thatcher once considered taking along representatives of GEC during a Beijing visit.

The idea was shelved after consultations with the then Hong Kong governor Sir Edward Youde, who feared the move would give the impression of “getting our prize by selling out Hong Kong to the Chinese” and draw widespread media attention.

The document went on to point out that Howe referred the Daya Bay nuclear station as the most important project at the time. As he noticed the project was not being welcomed by the Hong Kong public, he advised Thatcher to conduct private dialogue with Chinese leaders in Beijing, while intentionally not rushing the proposal through the Executive Council in Hong Kong, so as to avoid any rejections which would have been disastrous to the project.

It was revealed that Thatcher tabled the Daya Bay project to the then Chinese premier Zhao Ziyang on the same morning the Sino-British Joint Declaration was signed, assuring that the UK would help offer the best financing terms to China.

Zhao confirmed that the reactors used in the nuclear station would be purchased from GEC. Both parties are also said to have discussed purchases of aircraft.

In 1985, a million Hong Kong people, or one fifth of the then population, signed a petition opposing the construction of the nuclear power station.

Democratic Party’s founding chairman Martin Lee said it is apparent that Britain sold out Hong Kong for the sake of economic benefits, and that history is repeating.

“Premier Li Keqiang visited the UK three days after the white paper on ‘One Country, Two Systems’ was released this year,” Lee said, noting that “the tour ended with UK companies inking contracts worth US$30 billion from China buyers.”

The huge contracts explain Britain’s “lack of response on the white paper”, he said, adding that “Britain has been making money from Hong Kong since Day One.”

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