China

Is it possible that while one Whitehall Department is constructing a “secret” crisis centre to deal with cyber attacks, another located less than a quarter of a mile away is preparing to sell part of the UK’s national infrastructure to the very people behind those attacks?

The establishment of a cyber security centre was reported by the FT last week. Anyone who doubts that its primary focus is the Chinese should read the report produced a couple of months ago by the specialist US consultancy Mandiant.

The company identified attacks originating in a building occupied by the General Staff Department of the People’s Liberation Army in Shanghai which had targeted 141 companies across 20 major industries. China has denied official involvement but has not yet agreed to stop the attacks.

Unfortunately no one seems to have mentioned these developments to Ed Davey, energy secretary, or EDF, the company which wants to develop new nuclear power stations in Britain. If the price and risk allocation for that deal is agreed, and Mr Davey has said that agreement is close, the next question is how the deal will be funded. EDF does not have the capacity to find the £14bn required and so has been looking to Chinese partners to provide much of the cash. Read more

EDF faces probe into its relations with China. Getty Images

A new inquiry instigated by the French government into the international activities of the French nuclear industry poses a new challenge to the UK’s plans for a new generation of nuclear power stations. Further delay in reaching a final decision seems certain.

The formal inquiry, established just before the New Year, will be undertaken by the powerful Inspection Generale des Finances. The inquiry is sector wide and focused on potentially inappropriate transfers of protected technologies through the international partnerships developed by the nuclear companies. But according to the French press the inquiry is directed specifically at EDF and its relationships in China. Read more

The report in the Financial Times on Tuesday that the Chinese government is inviting international companies to directly involve themselves in its plans to develop shale gas could be of huge significance for the global energy market over the next decade and beyond.

China has huge shale deposits, perhaps double the US levels, and as yet zero production. Bold plans to produce 6.5bn cubic metres of shale gas by 2015 and 60bn by 2020 have generally been dismissed as fanciful given China’s limited technical base in shale and the challenges of infrastructure and water supply.

But never underestimate Beijing’s determination. The resistance to dependence on outside sources of supply is as strong as ever. Indigenous resources will be given priority and China is now rich enough to absorb the costs of bringing supplies from the north and west to the cities on the eastern seaboard. Read more

The world energy market now revolves around China. So does the climate change debate and any attempt to reduce emissions. According to the latest figures from the BP Statistical Review, the growth in China’s energy consumption last year amounted to more than the total annual consumption of the UK. Then there is a corporate dimension to China’s growing role in the global energy market. The Chinese are using their current economic strength to buy into European energy companies. How should Europe respond to all this? Read more

Although we hear a great deal about national energy policies it is important to remember that this is a global sector. Prices are set internationally. So are patterns of investment and developments in technology. Emissions and climate change are international issues.  National policies can protect, subsidise or tax different elements of energy production and consumption – but they are essentially local responses to external, global developments.

I think it is therefore worth looking at what is shaping the global market. It would be silly to reduce a complex system to a single answer but what stands out at the moment and for the foreseeable future is the absolutely critical role of China. Read more