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UK official looks to China for support

Updated: 2013-10-22 01:35
By Cecily Liu and Zhang Chunyan ( China Daily)

Two sides discuss stronger links in transportation, airline industry

China and Britain should cooperate more closely on transport and aviation, the UK's secretary of state for transport Patrick McLoughlin told China Daily.

McLoughlin, who came to China on Saturday for a five-day visit, said he is interested to learn more about China's high-speed train system and explore the possibility of establishing more airline links between the two countries.

McLoughlin said he will meet with Minister of Transport Yang Chuantang to learn more about China's infrastructure growth in order to identify potential business opportunities for UK companies, particularly those in the design and construction sectors.

"It's a mission to sell, to buy and to learn. I'm always very happy to learn lessons wherever we possibly can," McLoughlin said.

"China has developed its high-speed trains quickly and successfully. Obviously, China is a country of a massively bigger scale than the UK, but the connection of major cities and the transportation link is very important (in both countries)," McLoughlin said.

He said the UK can learn from China about the importance of using high-speed trains to connect its cities, and bring mobility and economic growth to these cities. "I'd be interested to hear what Mr Yang has to say about how China made it happen," he said. The UK is also planning to build its own high-speed railway, known as HS2, which connects London with cities in the English Midlands such as Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield.

The first phase of HS2, between London and Birmingham, will begin construction in 2017, and the railway is expected to open in 2026.

McLoughlin said the British government welcomes Chinese investment in HS2, although he didn't say if there are any negotiations currently taking place.

He said it would make more sense for Chinese companies to participate in the HS2 project as strategic investors, rather than participate in the actual construction process.

"I'm more thinking of financial investment, because I think we have enough construction companies in the UK, but we'll go out for competition and we want to get the best price," he said.

He said the construction of new stations for HS2 is an area he considers suitable for private sector investment, although he is open to suggestions.

"If there are any other areas of investment that Chinese companies want to get involved in, then I'm ready to listen to what they have to say," he said.

Comparing high-speed train systems of both countries, McLoughlin said the UK has more regulatory procedures and longer approval processes for the construction of high-speed trains than China.

But he said he would not wish to draw a comparison in terms of which system is better.

McLoughlin said another issue he will discuss with Yang is the potential to increase aviation links between the two countries to facilitate plans for easier travel for visitors.

Currently, London has direct flights with Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chengdu, but experts have pointed out that London is losing out to other European aviation hubs, like Paris and Amsterdam, on its connectivity with China.

Part of the problem is that London's largest airport, Heathrow Airport, is nearing full capacity, so it is difficult for new routes to be established.

McLoughlin said the UK is now actively exploring its options to address this challenge. The UK government will have an interim report on possible solutions, to be released later this year, and the full report in two years time.

He said discussions of the aviation issue will be appropriate particularly as the UK's Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has just announced an easier visa application process for Chinese visitors last week during his China visit.

McLoughlin said that setting up new aviation routes will depend on individual airlines, but he hopes negotiations at the government level will help to at least encourage discussions.

He said Heathrow does have a capacity constraint problem, and suggested there are also other British airports that can easily take on more business, including Birmingham and Manchester's airports.

Currently, London is the only British city with direct flights to China. Birmingham and Manchester airports are both currently trying to attract Chinese airlines, but no announcements have been made.

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