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By Courting China's Cash, Britain May Be Sacrificing Long-Term Security

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Britain is giving China's president the five- star treatment during a state visit to London. Today, Xi Jinping addresses Parliament and attends a state banquet with the queen, and he will stay at Buckingham Palace. All of which is symbolic of what some traditional allies of Britain see as an overly cozy relationship. Here's NPR's Leila Fadel.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: This visit to Britain is worlds apart from President Xi Jinping's tense trip to the United States this September. At the time, President Obama signaled he was ready to slap China with sanctions over cyberattacks the U.S. blames on Beijing. But in London, both China and the UK say this is the start of a golden era, as Britain curries favor for Chinese investments. In east London, Chinese firm ABP is investing more than $2.6 billion dollars to develop a historic dockland property.

NEIL ROBINSON: This is a unique and very special place because we are going to transform Royal Albert Dock into London's next business district.

FADEL: That's Neil Robinson of ABP. He says the new development will be London's third largest business district. It's aimed squarely at Chinese and Asian companies. Just a few years ago, relations between Britain and China were under severe strain, but now parts of central London have been redecorated to welcome China's president.

This is Chinatown. In front of me is a sign welcoming President Xi Jinping to the United Kingdom and above me are endless amounts of red and gold lanterns in honor of his visit.

While London's Chinatown is celebrating Xi's presence, so are a lot of British businessmen. The UK is China's top European destination for investment, and new deals are on the horizon. This includes a controversial plan for Chinese investment in a nearly $40 billion dollar nuclear power project. Critics ask whether Britain is risking its national security by giving China influence in the UK's nuclear industry. Agatha Kratz from the European Council on Foreign Relations says everyone wants to do business with China. But she says the UK's European partners are jealous of Britain's success and think it's gone too far to court China.

AGATHA KRATZ: Everyone is annoyed but annoyed that maybe the UK is doing so well but also annoyed that the UK is willing to do so much to do so well. And it puts other countries in a difficult situation.

FADEL: Britain, she says, seems willing to do almost anything to win Chinese favor while ignoring issues like human rights.

KRATZ: The UK has forgotten completely about that. It just won't speak about it anymore. And for countries that have tried for so long to actually keep that on the agenda, it is a bit disappointing.

FADEL: Kratz says it's hard to have a united European policy toward China when the UK is so busy trying to impress. The West is grappling with how to deal with China now that it's a global powerhouse, says Michel Hockx of the School of Oriental and African Studies. Now since the U.S. has taken a harsher stance with China, the UK is playing a different game.

MICHEL HOCKX: The UK realized that they could actually go for a completely novel approach and present themselves as China's sort of most significant and most trusted Western partner.

FADEL: China has money to invest and consumers to consume, Hockx says, and the UK is trying to capture both. Leila Fadel, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.