UK further embraces Belt & Road Initiative
6 Nov 2017


This year, the United Kingdom became the westernmost point in the Belt and Road Initiative's sprawling land-transportation network when a freight train crossed the deserts and mountains of Eurasia on the 12,400 km journey from Yiwu, Zhejiang province, on China's eastern coast, to Barking Station in London.


The UK has been a strong advocate of President Xi Jinping's signature international development and infrastructure plan since 2013, when the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, known together as the Belt and Road Initiative, were proposed.


The China-bound direct freight train from London


The first China-bound cargo train carrying British products from London for eastern Chinese city of Yiwu.


The first China-bound cargo train carrying British products left London on April 10 for an eastern Chinese city, highlighting another historic moment in the China-initiated Belt and Road Initiative.


The cross-continent freight, loaded with 32 containers carrying products including milk powder and soft drinks, left from east London's DP World gateway for the Chinese city of Yiwu amid cheers and applause. The 12,000-km journey will pass through nine countries in 18 days. During the trip, the train's locomotives have to be changed due to different railway gauges in the countries.


British companies have worked on dozens of Chinese development projects along the initiative's proposed routes. The UK's most visible endorsement of the plan came in 2015, when it joined the China-led Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank. In February, Chinese government sources told news outlets that China had invited British Prime Minister Theresa May to its major Belt and Road summit in Beijing in May.


In March, Liu Xiaoming, the ambassador to the UK, said China views Britain as "a country of global influence" and an important partner for the initiative.


James Sassoon, chairman of the China-Britain Business Council and a member of the British House of Lords, said this view, coupled with the UK's already active involvement, places the nation in prime position to expand its contribution to the initiative beyond the provision of legal and financial services. "In the Belt and Road, we are beginning to see a glimpse of the future," Sassoon said." And the Belt and Road is still evolving. That is why the expertise of UK financial, legal and advisory services are so important at this early stage. However, we also see longer-term opportunities for UK-China collaboration in third countries across many other sectors, including manufacturing, logistics, agriculture, food processing, science and technology, education, healthcare and retail."


British companies active in Belt and Road nations include BP, Arup, Atkins and Mott Macdonald in the energy and infrastructure sectors, HSBC and Standard Chartered in banking and financial services, and KPMG, PWC and Pinsent Masons in professional and legal services.


Commercial considerations


Bilateral trade between China and the UK has surpassed 60 billion pounds ($74.5 billion) in each of the last two years, having increased more than two and a half times in 10 years. Recent reports show that the UK received almost 25 percent of China's entire inward stock of investment to the EU last year.


The initiative has augmented trade between the UK and China, with the creation of the Yiwu-London rail line and the launch of a representative office for the Chengdu International Railway Service in London.


The rail company operates the Chengdu-Euro Express Railway, one of the largest land trade routes by volume between Asia and Europe. Stephen Rinsler, director of the UK's Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport, said if the rail link can prove its reliability it will provide a valuable alternative for exporters because rail is cheaper than air and faster than shipping.


Nathan Hayes, an economist at the Construction Intelligence Centre in London, said as markets along the routes develop and investment drives further growth, secondary opportunities for the UK will likely be found across multiple sectors. "UK businesses can leverage the improving business environments and better access to growing, liberalized markets along the Belt and Road routes to secure opportunities across sectors," he said.


Source: Xinhua News and China Daily