China in “desperate” new push for French nuclear tech: Intelligence
The Chinese Government is seeking to add nuclear power-plants to its suite of “debt-trap diplomacy” tools, in moves that could seriously undermine regional and international security, French and US intelligence agencies warn. They say Beijing is pushing to rekindle a “seriously concerning” deal that would see sensitive “civilian” nuclear technology pass to the architects of China’s nuclear weapons program. Anthony Klan reports.
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The Chinese Government is running a behind-the-scenes lobbing campaign targeting key French politicians in an increasingly frenetic bid to obtain billions of dollars of nuclear technology, which intelligence sources fear Beijing will use to expand its global influence and undermine global security.
Under the “guise of ameliorating Franco-Sino bilateral relations” the Chinese Government has recently intensified lobbying and “back channel negotiations” in its ramped-up attempts to obtain the technology, multiple intelligence sources have told The Klaxon.
High-level US intelligence sources said Beijing was “engaging in political diplomacy and back-channel negotiations” in a fierce bid to arrange a visit to China by French President Emmanuel Macron to China in the near future.
China was seeking to rekindle a 10 billion euro (US$11.7bn) deal between China and French Government-controlled nuclear energy giant Orano, which stalled in late 2018, partly due to serious security concerns raised behind-the-scenes by France’s national security agency, the Secretariat General for Defence and National Security (SGDSN).
Orano, which had been called New Areva before changing its name in January 2018, is a France-based multinational which is majority owned by the French Government.
Senior intelligence sources said Beijing was currently “lobbying hard”, hoping to secure in the coming days a future visit by Macron.
China was seeking to exploit France’s recent change in Prime Ministers, with Jean Castex having replaced Edouard Philipe as French Prime Minister on July 3, one senior intelligence source said.
French President Emmanuel Macron with Chinese President Xi Jinping on a 2019 visit to China. Source: Chinese Government
Philipe is publicly known to have close ties to the Chinese Government – he was previously appointed “Young Leader” of the Beijing-tied France-China Foundation and he visited China many times in his previous role as mayor of France’s Le Harve region – which made it politically difficult to advance the China nuclear deal while he was still in power.
(Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy is also closely tied to the France-China Foundation, and with his help the foundation assisted Chinese telo giant Huawei, widely seen an major espionage tool of the Chinese state, to expand into several African countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo and Gabon.).
In France, the Prime Minister is appointed by the French President (who is elected by the French people) and both Philipe and Castex were appointed by Macron.
“With the change in the French leadership, the Chinese are currently lobbying hard to arrange a visit of Macron to China….so that negotiations on restoration of the nuclear project could begin among other agreements that could be reached between the two countries,” a senior intelligence source told The Klaxon.
Beijing is hoping the departure of the China-linked Philipe will help public appearances and help it to now get the deal away, giving it access to the “sensitive” nuclear technology.
“With the change in the French leadership, the Chinese are currently lobbying hard to arrange a visit of Macron to China” — Senior intelligence source
China has long had nuclear weapons, however what it is seeking from France is state-of-the-art nuclear power plant technology, which is used in electricity generation.
French and US intelligence agencies are concerned Beijing will exploit the technology by using it as a major tool in its expansionist “debt-trap diplomacy” operations, which involve it ladening poorer countries with unrealistic levels of debt, so as obtain political influence over them.
“The project has been stuck because of serious concerns expressed by the Secretariat General for Defence and National Security,” one senior US intelligence source told The Klaxon.
“The agency raised concerns mainly on China’s possible sharing of the sensitive technology to countries in order to gain future nuclear energy projects using its tactics of using predatory loans and debt trap to nations seeking nuclear power.”
France and China have been in discussions regarding the deal between China National Nuclear Corporation and Orano since it was first proposed over a decade ago.
The project was discussed by Macron on a visit to China in January 2018, with his Prime Minister, Philipe, signing the “preparatory work” agreement five months later.
Intelligence sources say that if France were to sign the deal it would would give Beijing powerful, state-of-the-art technology that it could use as a lure to financially entrap smaller and poorer countries seeking nuclear power.
That would further undermine regional stability and is likely to be of major to concern to countries such as India, Taiwan and Japan, who are actively pushing back against China’s aggressive expansionism.
Much of Beijing’s “debt-trap diplomacy” has occurred under the guise of it’s so-called Belt-and-Road program, which ostensibly involves China providing major infrastructure works to other nations to assist global trade.
However many nations, including several in the South Pacific, such as Vanuatu and Tonga, have fallen victim to the project, which has left them swimming in debt and increasingly under the control of Beijing.
Indian’s neighbour Pakistan was the flagship recipient of the program, in a project called the “China-Pakistan Economic Corridor”, but since it became involved in 2015 it has fallen deeper into dept and has ceded substantial political control to China.
(In 2018 Pakistan’s Government attempted to push back against the program, declaring it a bad deal, but was almost immediately overruled by Pakistan’s powerful military, which has become increasingly close to Beijing).
Orano’s website says it is involved in a “major cooperation” with China Nuclear Corporation. Source: Orano.
China has made little secret of its strong desire to obtain the French nuclear technology.
Regarding Philipe’s June 2018 visit to China, which included meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Chinese Government-owned media focused heavily on the issue.
“China and France reached a consensus to strengthen cooperation in nuclear areas,” the China Global Television Network reported.
“The two leaders agreed that they should speed up the signing of the documents in nuclear fuel reprocessing.
“China and France are highly complimentary in these products and areas as we almost signed the technical discussion part while working on the policies,” Chinese Premier Li Keqiang was quoted as saying.
In November 2019, Macron visited China and he and President Xi announced they had set a “deadline” of January 31 this year to identify a site in China where the proposed French nuclear facility would be built, however no announcement has been made.
Intelligence sources also have serious concerns the nuclear power plant technology could be used by China for military purposes.
US intelligence agencies say the China National Nuclear Corporation is a front for the Chinese Communist Party and is used to “further the Chinese agenda of gathering know-how and diverting technologies from developed countries for military use through dubious means”.
The China National Nuclear Corporation had been China’s key nuclear weapons manufacturer before “its entry to build civilian nuclear reactors at the behest of the Chinese Government”, one source said.
As they have in many other parts of the world, Chinese Government-controlled or affiliated entities have sought to cultivate in France politicians, ex-politicians and other key public figures, in what is seen by intelligence agencies and security experts as part of Beijing’s playbook of expansionism and influence.
“The French are now concerned since Huawei is increasingly being found to be involved in espionage” — Intelligence source
Then French Prime Minister Edouardo with Chinese President Li Keqiang in China in June 2018 where the proposed Orano nuclear deal progressed. Source: Chinese Government
Many nations have been caught out by the strategy, which had led to highly expensive and strategically costly missteps.
“With the help of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, China has gained telecom projects for Huawei Company in African countries, including Gabon and Democratic of Congo for setting up a research and marketing centre,” one senior security source said.
“However, with this development, the French are now concerned since Huawei is increasingly being found to be involved in espionage and interception activities in the African continent, in a way challenging the French presence in those Francophile nations”.
In July the UK banned Huawei from the rollout of its its 5G mobile network and has ordered telcos to remove all Huawei infrastructure by 2027, in a move expected to cost about 2 billion pounds (USD$2.6bn).
Huawei has been banned in the US and in August 2018 Australia banned Huawei from being involved in its 5G rollout, becoming the first nation in the five eyes intelligence sharing network to do so.
In February Huawei announced plans to build a “mobile base station plant” in the French Alsace region, which would produce 4G and 5G communications equipment for the whole EU market.
Doing so would have presented Huawei with a key opportunity to expand its espionage operations, such as by installing malware and other spying devices in the products.
The factory would have been the first of its type outside China and Huawei said it would be a Euro 200 billion project and that “500 jobs” would be offered to French locals, in what one intelligence source tells The Klaxon was a direct bid to “speed up formalities” and “to avoid any scrutiny from the French Cyber-security Agency, ANSSI”.
“In this regard, Huawei had directly reached an understanding with the local Alsace government to make the agreement financially viable and socially lucrative,” the source said.
However it didn’t proceed.
“Since the matter is of strategic importance with implications for national security, (France’s SGDSN security agency) withheld it for lack of security clearance through its timely intervention,” the source said.
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