Australia blocks China bid for biggest power network

The Australian government has said security concerns were behind its decision to block Chinese bidders from taking a controlling interest in the country's largest electricity network.

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The move comes less than a month after the UK government postponed approval of construction of the £18 billion Hinkley Point nuclear power project, in which China's General Nuclear Power Corporation (GNP) will have a third stake, reportedly over similar security concerns.It was also revealed in The Times on Thursday that nuclear engineer Allen Ho, a joint US-Chinese citizen working for GNP, and the company itself had been charged with industrial espionage by unlawfully conspiring to develop nuclear material in China without US approval and “with the intent to secure an advantage to the People’s Republic of China”.Assistant US Attorney-General John P Carlin said, “Allen Ho, at the direction of a Chinese state-owned nuclear power company, allegedly approached and enlisted US-based nuclear experts to provide integral assistance in developing and producing special nuclear material in China.”“Ho did so without registering with the Department of Justice as an agent of a foreign nation or authorisation from the US Department of Energy. Prosecuting those who seek to evade US law by attaining sensitive nuclear technology for foreign nations is a top priority for the National Security Division.”The US arrest will cause further unrest in Westminster where Prime Minister Theresa May is said to be uneasy not only about Hinkley Point – which would be the UK's first new nuclear plant in a generation ­– but also plans for another state-owned Chinese corporation's plans to build another plant in Bradwell, Essex.

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Australia itself currently has no nuclear power generating plants and the government's decision to block – at least temporarily – Chinese and Hong Kong investors centred on the purchase of a controlling stake in Ausgrid, New South Wales's electricity distribution network. China's State Grid Corp and Hong Kong's Cheung Kong Infrastructure Holdings have been attempting to buy a 50.4 per cent controlling stake in Ausgrid but, in a statement, the Australian Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison said the bid was "contrary to the national interest”.Mr Morrison told a press conference on Thursday that he could not detail the national security concerns, but said they applied to "all current applications". He added, "Ausgrid's footprint includes critical power and communications services that Ausgrid provides to business and government. The national security concerns are not country specific and relate to the transaction structure and the nature of the assets."The Australian Broadcasting Corporation commented, "The decision is seen as a major setback for NSW Premier Mike Baird and Treasurer Gladys Berejiklian, whose government hopes to lease a 50 per cent stake in the asset for 99 years to help raise funds for infrastructure projects."Ms Berejiklian played down the decision, saying that, if the Chinese bidders were permanently blocked, plenty of other investors were interested in the sale."The (federal) treasurer has indicated a timeframe for considering the process, and I want to stress this — no matter what the outcome in a week's time — this is a valuable asset with a lot of interest," she said.

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