Inexplicably, Sky News interviewed Bob Carr not once but three times within two days on treasurer Scott Morrison’s decision, on security grounds, to block the sale of NSW’s electricity grid. The NSW government was at an advanced stage of plan to give either a Chinese state-owned company or a Hong Kong infrastructure giant a 99-year lease to run Australia’s largest electricity grid.
Unsurprisingly, Carr, who as former foreign minister knows a few things about security, was withering in his condemnation of the decision. He pointed out that the China State Grid Corporation already ran other electricity networks in Australia and no security worries had been raised, and accused the federal government of pandering to ‘economic popularism’.
Senator Stephen Conroy, an Opposition front bencher and former communications minister, supported Morrison’s decision. Speaking on TV, he said Carr, in his current professorial role as director of UTS’s Australia-China Relations Centre, is a mouthpiece of Beijing.
What was surprising about the Sky News interviews, however, is that Carr not only brushed aside the Chinese military build up on and expansion of islands in the South China Sea as an irrelevance, but failed to deal with other immediate concerns about China.
The Sky News interviewers, the experienced David Speers and presenter Laura Jayes questioned Carr about what is arguably the major reason for Morrison’s decision – information from Britain about prime minister Theresa May’s recent last minute decision to block Chinese involvement in the construction by a French company of a $38 billion nuclear power station at Hinkley Point.
Neither of the interviewers asked about – nor did Carr mention – that the erstwhile partner in Hinkley Point – state-owned China General Nuclear Power (CGN) stands accused of leading a conspiracy to steal American power industry secrets, details of which have been passed to Canberra by both Washington and London. Carr and the journalists should have known this.
Next week, Szuhsiung Ho, a nuclear engineer and a senior adviser to CGN, faces a court in Tennessee in the United States on charges brought by the national security division of the Department of Justice, alleging he recruited six American nuclear experts to obtain the country’s latest nuclear technology. The case follows a long FBI investigation. Szuhsiung Ho has been in detention since April, but denies the charge.
In one 2009 email obtained by the Department of Justice, he allegedly said: “China has the budget to spend. They want to bypass the research stage and go directly to the final design and manufacturing phase.”
Paul Dorfman, of the energy institute at University College London, told The Times : “This extraordinary case demonstrates that concerns over involving China in UK critical nuclear infrastructure are clear and present. So it may well be in our own best interest not to allow CGN, or any other Chinese nuclear state entity, access to our key nuclear infrastructure and markets.”