China’s “Nuclear Dragon” Goes Abroad: Exporting Nuclear Power Infrastructure through the Belt and Road Initiative

05.18.2021 | Articles | Chen Bing-Ming

In 2013, the Chinese government announced a grand strategy to export nuclear power infrastructure, with plans to build nuclear plants in dozens of countries as part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

This is a big gamble. China has chosen to compete in a high-stakes field against the US and Russia in the hopes that it can exploit its systemic advantages to outcompete the few companies remaining in the business and become the world’s undefeated nuclear champion.

China’s primary objective is not to reap huge economic benefits. When a bilateral partnership forms around nuclear plant construction, the exporting country takes the lead. This implies that China hopes to gain regional political dominance through these projects, similar to Russia’s “pipeline politics.” Such influence would extend for decades, perhaps even a century or more.

In the past year or so, China’s state-owned nuclear industry giants, the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) and the China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN), have moved away from their typical low-profile style, flaunting their industrial might to the world. This indicates that the first phase of China’s “Go Out” nuclear export strategy is already in place. The government is done with the diplomatic strategy of biding its time. Instead, it has launched an all-out attack, wagering to win a greater payoff.