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STOCKHOLM – A political brawl is brewing in Sweden over a key ingredient in the country’s efforts to move away from fossil fuels: Chinese money.
These are the hundreds of millions of euros invested in Swedish wind farms by the Chinese state-owned China General Nuclear Power Group, or CGN, with opposition lawmakers fearing the security consequences of allowing Beijing to gain a foothold in Sweden’s future energy production.
Through questions to parliament and a steady pace of media statements over the past year, members of the center-right Moderate Party and the far-right Swedish Democrats – the two largest parties in the ‘opposition – opposed the sale of CGN.
The Chinese company has stakes in six Swedish wind projects, including 75% in Markbygden Ett, the first phase of the larger Markbygden project in northern Sweden, which is expected to be Europe’s largest onshore wind farm when completed .
“When it comes to power generation, increasing ownership by foreign countries is not by definition a problem, but it could be, especially when it comes to countries like China.” said Lars Hjälmered, spokesperson for Energy Moderates.
Swedish Democrats’ energy spokesman Mattias Bäckström Johansson called his country’s attitude to Chinese investment in various sectors, including power generation, “naive”.
In Sweden, power generation has become a hot topic ahead of next year’s elections, with clashes over wind and nuclear power generation plans already rife as the government navigates an ambitious transition to nuclear power generation. fully renewable sources of electricity by 2040.
The country of 10 million people expects demand for green electricity to double by 2045 as industries from steel and mining to transportation phase out fossil fuels.
The dispute over CGN’s role comes on top of Stockholm’s already strained relationship with Beijing, and analysts at the Swedish Defense Research Agency, known as FOI, have warned of the risks posed by the growing involvement of China in wind power.
“If China’s share of Swedish electricity production increases, the country could use its influence to put pressure on Sweden,” Oscar Almen, China specialist at FOI, told the Swedish daily earlier this month. Dagens Nyheter.
As well as being a means of exerting political pressure in the future, observers say China could also use any information obtained through CGN about customers – individuals, businesses and public entities – to support its political objectives, which are increasingly at odds with those of Western nations.
For example, a 2017 Chinese national security law requires Chinese companies to support Beijing’s intelligence-gathering efforts.
CGN did not respond to a request for comment on concerns raised about its investments.
chinese power game
As part of Beijing’s “Made in China” strategy launched in 2015, Chinese companies have sought leadership roles in high-tech sectors – including clean energy – and state support. gave CGN financial muscle.
At the same time, Sweden was increasing its wind power capacity and the Asian cash injection was helpful.
CGN bought its stake in Markbygden Ett in 2018 and its owners have so far invested around 7.8 billion crowns (770 million euros) in the project, according to a report by the industry group Swedish Association of wind power.
But now, with the Swedish wind industry partially operational, officials are wondering how much of the emerging sector China should control.
Similar questions are likely to arise for other European countries as they design and execute transitions to low-carbon power generation, especially when focusing on sources like wind and power. nuclear where Chinese companies are strong.
CGN also has stakes in wind projects in France, Belgium and the Netherlands, according to its website.
In the UK, the company also has stakes in the Sizewell and Hinkley nuclear power plants, which media have suggested the London government is increasingly concerned about.
The United States blacklisted CGN in 2019 amid accusations – which the company denies – that it was seeking to steal technology that could have military use.
A turbulent history
In Sweden, simmering concerns over CGN and wind power follow a wider backlash against a perceived increase in Chinese trade and political influence.
A number of Swedish industrial cities, including Gothenburg, home of Chinese-owned Volvo Cars, have pulled out of joint projects with Chinese cities over concerns over Beijing’s human rights record.
Stockholm also banned Chinese Huawei from building 5G internet in Sweden after ruling that the telecommunications company could be used by Beijing to spy on Swedish targets.
In a parliamentary question earlier this month, moderate lawmaker Lars Beckman asked how the Swedish government plans to deal with the “security consequences of the Chinese state making such large investments in Swedish wind power development “.
Energy Minister Anders Ygeman said the government was “aware of the problems that may arise with certain foreign purchases of sensitive infrastructure and technology” and noted that the government had previously said that the growing global influence China created “both opportunities and challenges.”
In a proposal submitted in May, the government suggested tightening the rules for foreign purchases of Swedish assets – as well as for cooperation between Swedish and foreign companies – if there were national security concerns, Ygeman said. .
The proposal would require companies to consult Swedish supervisors more often before entering into contracts with foreign counterparties.
Hjälmered of the Moderate Party said he was in favor of more scrutiny of transactions involving foreign buyers.
“Sweden is in favor of free trade, but at times we have to be able to say that certain types of investment should not happen for security reasons,” he said.
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