US blacklists Chinese nuclear company over theft of military tech

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The US has put a major state-owned Chinese nuclear power company, a partner for the UK’s power generation programme, on its export blacklist, over accusations of stealing US technology for military use.

China General Nuclear Power Group, or CGN, and three of its subsidiaries were placed on the commerce department’s “entity list”, according to an announcement on the US Federal Register,

The placement effectively bans US companies from supplying the Chinese group without obtaining licences, which are rarely granted.

The Trump administration has heightened efforts to block the export of US technologies to Chinese companies on national security grounds, angering Beijing that has decried the measures and accused Washington of unfair practices.

The commerce department placed Chinese telecoms company Huawei on the same list in May, escalating the trade dispute with China, although US President Donald Trump promised a reprieve for the company after meeting his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, in June.

A bitter row between Washington and Beijing over market access and trade has increasingly spread to security and technology, as hopes have faded that the latest round of talks, set to continue in September, will lead to a comprehensive deal in the near future. 

After a policy review, the US energy department in October last year placed new curbs on exports to China to prevent the “illegal diversion of US civil nuclear technology for military” use.

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There would be a “presumption of denial” for new licences and extensions to sell to CGN, the department said at the time, due to a 2016 indictment against the company for conspiring to steal US nuclear technology.

In August 2017, an engineer from the company was found guilty of helping to enlist US nuclear power experts to aid the development of special nuclear material, including some technologies with military applications, for CGN.

The US move to expand export curbs threatens to heighten pressure from the Trump administration on the UK over its relationships with Chinese companies, including Huawei and CGN, that the Trump administration deems as posing a security risk.

In October, an assistant US secretary of state explicitly warned the UK against partnering with CGN, saying that Washington had evidence that the business was converting civilian technology to military uses.

The UK government has struggled to find a way to cut CGN and other Chinese companies out of its nuclear programme on security grounds. The company has invested at least £2.7bn in Hinkley Point, the design assessment for the Bradwell reactor and wind farms that produce a total of 340 megawatts.

CGN told Chinese state media that an initial analysis of the decision suggested that any impact on its development would be limited. The company did not respond to a request for further comment.

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