The provenance of a letter claiming to be from China’s state-run railway offering to build HS2 has been plunged into mystery after the Chinese ambassador to the UK said that no such letter had ever been written.
Speaking at Chatham House, ambassador Liu Xiaoming said “the Chinese railway authority did not write a letter to promise it can deliver the HS2 project within five years”, adding that the way it was reported was “fake news”.
The letter that the ambassador appeared to be referring to was first seen by Building magazine, before being reported by other UK media outlets.
Perhaps the biggest clue should have been in the first line, as the letter was addressed to Mark Thurston, “chief executuve officer” [sic] of HS2 Ltd, at the firm’s “Birmijgham” address.
It also listed a return email address which has no connection to the China Railway 16th Bureau Group, a division of the China Railway Construction Corporation, as well as an office address in Malaysia.
That also should have set alarms ringing, as Bloomberg lists the company’s head office as being in Beijing.
Finally, the letter’s signee seems to have disappeared without a trace: there is no record of a Dato’ T.G. Ong.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps was forced to deny that the Department for Transport had held any conversations with China about the project on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show.
The letter in question, which purports to have been sent by the China Railway 16th Bureau Group, a division of the China Railway Construction Corporation, said that the company “would undertake to complete the entire project within five years of commencement”.
It also offered funding of “up to 80 per cent of project value”, as well as “shortened journey times and increased capacity”, with a speed of 420 kilometres per hour (260mph) — well above the current projected top speed of 200–225mph.
However, in a statement on its website dated 16 February, the company in question denied any knowledge of such a letter:
“It has been verified that our company, China Railway 16th Bureau Group Co., Ltd, and any of its employees has never written, in the name of our company, to HS2.
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“Our company has never authorised or entrusted anybody to write in the name of our company, to HS2 on the matter of HS2.
“In fact, our company knew nothing about the letter which appeared recently in certain media and was written in our company’s name to the chief executive officer [of] HS2 before our company read the letter in the media.”