China might allow Britain to take part in the construction of a large undersea tunnel in exchange for a role in its high-speed railway and nuclear power projects, a senior state firm engineer said.
Professor Wang Mengshu, deputy chief engineer with China Railway Tunnel Group and a senior scientific adviser to the government on high-speed railway projects, said British representatives had gone to China to discuss cooperation in the construction of the 123km Bohai Strait Tunnel.
The project, which was submitted to the central government for final approval earlier this year, would connect Dalian in Liaoning and Yantai in Shandong province.
The 260 billion yuan (HK$323.7 billion) tunnel would exceed the combined length of Japan’s Seikan tunnel and the tunnel that connects England to France.
“Britain has offered the technology and experience that they acquired in the construction under the English Channel,” Wang said. “China has asked them to come up with a plan with technical details.”
In exchange, China hoped to take part in Britain’s construction of high-speed railway lines and new nuclear reactors planned by the government.
But China faced a hard sell, Wang said. “The country is too small. They don’t have much land for long-haul high-speed rail projects with speeds of 350km/h or higher.
China has been given the chance to take a decisive stake in the next stage of Britain’s energy and transport infrastructure as Chinese companies won the right to own and operate a nuclear power station and to help build high-speed rail lines.
The agreements were among trade deals worth £14bn agreed with Beijing during the visit of the Chinese premier Li Keqiang, which prompted David Cameron to declare Britain is playing a part in the rise of China – which he called a defining event of the 21st century.
The two most controversial aspects of the deals will allow Chinese firms to own and operate a Chinese-designed nuclear power station and to build and operate rail lines in Britain. The Chinese have a mixed safety record on high-speed rail.
As early as 2009, China had confirmed plans for an international strategic network of three high speed rail lines, and they are the Eurasian High Speed Rail, the Central Asia High Speed Rail, and the Pan-Asian High Speed Rail.
Wang Mengshu, academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, told media that China has conducted analysis and planning for the above-mentioned lines, and now we need to talk with the other countries involved one by one. China will maintain its own technical standards. We have reached deals with several countries, such as Uzbekistan and Myanmar.
China has plans to build high speed rail throughout the world. According to Wang Mengshu, China is negotiating with more than 20 countries on high speed rail construction. These transnational high speed railways will be funded by China and apply Chinese technology. Local resources, such as natural gas in Central Asia, can be used to pay for the construction cost.
High speed rail appeared twice in the joint statement
The cooperation between China and Britain on high speed rail fits with China’s strategy of “high speed rail going global”. During Prime Minister Li Keqiang’s five visits to foreign countries, he has spoken about high speed rail on four occasions, earnign the accolade of ” super salesman “from the media.
The potential project for cooperation in the UK is the HS2 high speed rail connecting London and the north of England, which will cost about 50 billion pounds.
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