A LETTER which was widely reported to contain an offer from the China Railway Construction Corporation to build HS2 within five years has been disowned by the Chinese ambassador to the United Kingdom, who commented that the original reproduction of a letter in Building magazine amounted to ‘fake news’.
However, there is no suggestion that the magazine was not acting in good faith.
The report was published on 14 February, under the headline ‘Chinese firm offers to build HS2 and save “tens of billions”. It was still available on the magazine’s website on 3 March.
On close examination the letter contains some errors. It addresses HS2 CEO Mark Thurston as ‘chief executuve officer’, based in ‘Birmijgham’, although it is also possible that the recipient thought the errors had been caused by the letter’s Chinese origin.
The letter, allegedly from the China Railway 16th Bureau Group Co.,Ltd and dated 28 January, offers funding of ‘up to 80 per cent of project value’, as well as ’shortened journey times and increased capacity’.
It also claims that the railway would be designed for a maximum speed of ‘420kph’ [km/h]. A paragraph which starts with the words ‘We are certain that we can offer a cost that is significantly lower than the projections we have seen’ has been partly redacted with a note added in red: ‘Deleted as sensitive in nature’.
Speaking at Chatham House in London, ambassador Liu Xiaoming said: ‘The Chinese railway authority did not write a letter to promise it can deliver the HS2 project within five years’. He also used the phrase ‘fake news’.
The letter included an email address which did not have an official domain name connected with the railway in China and quoted the postal address of a ‘representative office’ in Malaysia. In reality, the railway’s head office is in Beijing. The letter was signed by someone who also does not seem to exist.
According to City A.M., the China Railway 16th Bureau Group has since denied that it wrote to HS2. It is quoted as saying: ‘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 HS2 before our company read the letter in the media.’
Answering a Commons question yesterday about Chinese involvement, new HS2 minister Andrew Stephenson said: ‘There have been meetings with delegations from a number of countries including China over several years to discuss opportunities in the UK rail industry including HS2. The Department for Transport is always keen to learn from the experience of others and to consider bids through the proper procurement processes that offer value for money to the taxpayer.’
He did not mention the Chinese letter itself.