April 26, 2019 / 7:47 AM / a month ago

Britain calls China's Belt and Road Initiative a 'vision'

BEIJING (Reuters) - Britain is committed to help realize the potential of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), British finance minister Philip Hammond said on Friday, describing the policy as a “vision”.

Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond shakes hands with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang as they pose for a picture before their meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China, April 26, 2019. Parker Song/Pool via REUTERS

Speaking at a summit in Beijing on China’s program to re-create the old Silk Road joining China with Asia and Europe, Hammond said the BRI must work for everyone for it to turn into a sustainable reality and he offered British expertise in project financing.

“The Belt and Road Initiative has tremendous potential to spread prosperity and sustainable development, touching as it does, potentially 70 percent of the world’s population, a project of truly epic ambition,” Hammond said.

“The U.K. is committed to helping to realize the potential of the BRI and to doing so in way that works for all whose lives are touched by the project,” he added.

“The BRI is an extraordinarily ambitious vision,” Hammond said. “To turn that vision into a sustainable reality, it must work for everyone involved.”

Britain is eager to forge closer ties with Beijing. The world’s fifth-biggest economy will look to re-invent itself as a global trading nation after it leaves the European Union - though it remains unclear when there will be Brexit.

Britain and China will hold the next round of their Economic and Financial Dialogue (EFD) in mid-June in London, Hammond said on Thursday, after months of media reports that talks had been delayed by diplomatic tension.

In the past, the EFD has been used to announce closer cooperation on trade and banking initiatives, and to sign commercial contracts.

Speaking later to reporters, Hammond said he hoped to see progress on the Shanghai-London stock connect plan and other projects, though he did not give details.

STRAINED TIES

However, relations between London and Beijing have been strained in recent years, most notably after a British warship sailed close to islands claimed by China in the disputed South China Sea last August.

Prior to that, China and Britain, which have talked of a “golden era” of relations, had agreed to look at the possibility of reaching a “top notch” post-Brexit free trade deal that promised an important political win for the British government.

Hammond said while the two countries didn’t always agree on everything, relations were back on track.

“I agreed yesterday a long agenda with Vice Premier Hu Chunhua and I’m confident that out of that agenda there will be significant deliverables when we meet in London in June,” he told reporters.

Amid the upheavals on the domestic front after parliament three times rejected the Brexit deal negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May and other EU leaders, Britain has increasingly looked to China, including the Belt and Road.

Slideshow (5 Images)

To unlock that private finance and reassure investors, a recognized infrastructure asset class for Belt and Road projects must be created, with standardized contract terms and dutiful reporting that global investors will recognize and trust, Hammond told the summit.

To support the sheer scale of the initiative, private finance will need to play a bigger role in the infrastructure projects, he added.

“Our offer is to bring together the best of Chinese manufacturing, engineering and construction, with the best of British project design and legal, technical and financial services expertise, as we promise the golden era of U.K.-China relations to deliver world class sustainable infrastructure for the 21st century,” he said.

Reporting by Brenda Goh; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard and Ryan Woo; Editing by Richard Borsuk and Darren Schuettler

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