Britain seeks Chinese bids for 12-billion-pound railway

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British Chancellor George Osborne on Thursday urged Chinese firms to take part as he opened the bidding for seven contracts worth a combined 11.8 billion pounds (18 billion dollars) to build a high-speed railway.

Osborne said in the Chinese city of Chengdu that the line through northern England, known as HS2, was a key part of the British government’s plans for “supporting long-term economic growth” in the region.

“That’s why I’m here in China today, opening the bidding process for construction contracts worth 11.8 billion pounds, which will propel HS2 forward,” he said.

Osborne made the announcement after his Conservative government has faced criticism for making Britain overreliant on China.

“We are truly entering a golden era of cooperation between our two countries, and it’s crucial that businesses and communities from across the UK feel the full benefit of forging closer economic links with China,” he argued Thursday.

But opponents of the line questioned the legality of launching the bidding process without parliamentary approval and the wisdom of courting Chinese investment in the project.

“The Chinese way of doing things certainly seems to be rubbing off on George Osborne as he has decided to start a 12-billion-pound bidding process without any democratic mandate to do so, as parliamentary approval of HS2 is still at least a year away,” said Joe Rukin, campaign manager for Stop HS2.

“Any Chinese involvement in HS2 surely destroys any concept that the construction of HS2 will provide UK workers with the jobs currently being claimed,” Rukin said.

Conservative lawmaker Cheryl Gillan, an opponent of HS2, also told the BBC the opening of bidding was “premature” without parliamentary approval.

Another opposition group, HS2 Action Alliance, said Thursday’s announcement showed the line was a “political project rather than a transport project.”

Osborne encouraged Chinese investors to back the HS2 line as well as other projects in northern England valued at a total of 24 billion pounds.

“Today is about making sure that the north is at the heart of our plans to grow investment into the country, and we will be able to showcase compelling projects to ambitious Chinese investors,” said Commercial Secretary to the Treasury Jim O’Neill, who accompanied Osborne in China.

“But it is also about making sure we are cooperating and learning from China’s urbanization experience, including the progress China has made in supporting and coordinating regional development and promoting the development of city clusters,” O’Neill said.

On Wednesday, British media questioned the government’s growing economic ties to China after Osborne hailed the “golden relationship” between the two nations and invited Chinese firms to take part in two nuclear power projects.

The Financial Times said Britain’s trade is “dominated by Chinese investment and carries risks for Britain,” including national security risks linked to the nuclear projects.

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