China emerges as potential leading partner for controversial HS2 rail link

Line could be part-funded or even built by China: Premier Li Keqiang makes surprise announcement after talks with David Cameron in Beijing
  • @oliver_wright

Britain's controversial high speed rail link between London and the North could be partly funded or even built by China, it emerged today.

The Chinese premier Li Keqiang made the surprise announcement after talks with David Cameron in Beijing.

Li Keqiang said Britain and China had agreed to "push for breakthroughs" on high speed rail cooperation.

Mr Cameron added that "no country in the world is more open to Chinese investment than the UK".

Speaking after the talks in the Great Hall of the People on Monday, Li added that China was also looking for further co-operation in nuclear technology.

"The two sides have agreed to push for breakthroughs and progress in the co-operation between our enterprises on nuclear power and high speed rail," he said.

"The Chinese side is willing to not only participate in but also purchase equities and stocks in UK power projects."

Over the last five years China has built the largest high speed rail network in the world covering nearly 10,000 kilometres of track and is now attempting to sell it technologies to countries from Brazil to Thailand.

The Transport Secretary Patrick McLaughlin visited Beijing to hold talks with the Chinese Government earlier in the autumn.

But any Chinese involvement in HS2 will be highly controversial given safety concerns following a crash which killed at least 40 people in 2011.

However this does not appear to be putting off the Government. Mr Cameron said last week that he would welcome any potential Chinese involvement in HS2.

"I'm very interested in what's happening in terms of high-speed rail in China," he said during a visit to a Chinese exhibition at the V&A.

"It seems to be an absolute high-speed revolution taking place. In terms of HS2, I very much welcome Chinese investment into British infrastructure."

Mr Cameron is attempting to use his second official visit to China to mend fences following his controversial meeting with Dalai Lama last year and to sell Britain as a place to do business.

In a sharp dig at other EU leaders who are suspicious of what they see as Chinese expansionism Mr Cameron said he was "proud of Chinese investment" in Britain covering such areas such as energy and construction. He added he would be pushing for a comprehensive EU/China trade deal.

"Some in Europe and elsewhere see the world changing and want to shut China off behind a bamboo curtain of trade barriers," he said.

"Britain wants to tear those trade barriers down."

Mr Cameron, who arrived in Beijing pledging to act as China's strongest advocate in the west, started the day by visiting the Chinese headquarters of Jaguar Land Rover. He then met Li at the Great Hall of the People for talks and lunch. Cameron is due to have dinner with President Xi Jinping before heading to Shanghai.

During his press conference Mr Cameron made only a passing mention of human rights.

The prime minister opened his remarks at the Great Hall of the People by echoing Xi's call for a Chinese dream. The prime minister said: "China's transformation is one of the defining facts of our lifetime. The pace and scale of economic development and urbanisation dwarfs the British industrial revolution of two centuries ago. I see China's rise as an opportunity not just for the people of this country but for Britain and for the world.

"Britain wants China to realise its dream and I believe we can help each other succeed in the global race.

Some in Europe and elsewhere see the world changing and want to shut China off behind a bamboo curtain of trade barriers. Britain wants to tear those trade barriers down."