Wednesday 19 February 2020 5:14 am

DEBATE: Should we be concerned about rumours of potential Chinese involvement with HS2?

Sophia Gaston is director of the British Foreign Policy Group.
and Alexander Hammond
Alexander C. R. Hammond is a policy adviser at the Institute of Economic Affairs.

Should we be concerned about rumours of potential Chinese involvement with building HS2?

Sophia Gaston, director of the British Foreign Policy Group, says YES.

The government’s decision to permit Huawei to be involved in building our 5G network has exposed the acute lack of an overarching strategy around Britain’s engagement with China.

No doubt, this authoritarian state is also an economic powerhouse, and there are plenty of opportunities for meaningful links through business, culture, and education. But we cannot afford to be naive about how starkly different its values and objectives are to our own.

The appeal of a cut-price, rapid delivery for the embattled HS2 project is obvious, but China’s enviable infrastructure record is often made possible by standards on workers’ rights and planning consent utterly incompatible with our own.

Most importantly, we must take care that any relationships with China are in line with our long-term interests — by first defining the scope of our “critical infrastructure”, and then ensuring all within it remains firmly off the table.
No short-term gain can offset such grave risks to our national sovereignty.

Alexander C. R. Hammond, policy adviser at the Institute of Economic Affairs, says NO.

If HS2 is going ahead, taxpayers should relish the opportunity for it to be built at a lower cost by Chinese providers.

Unlike the controversy surrounding Huawei managing the UK’s 5G network, building a high-speed rail network does not hold the possibility for China to access any sensitive information.

A recent government review has found that HS2 could cost upwards of £106bn, which means each kilometre of track would cost the UK taxpayer a whopping £199m. By international standards, this figure is gargantuan. Look to France as an example: for their eight previous high-speed rail projects, each kilometre of track averages just £12.3m, which equates to 16 times less than the projected costs of HS2.

If the government’s preliminary discussions with the China Railway Construction Corporation do result in Chinese contractors building HS2 at a lower cost and in a faster time than is currently forecast, the British taxpayers should breathe a sigh of relief that no more of their money will be wasted on this bloated government project.

Main image credit: Getty

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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