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How the North can aid the East

By Angus Mcneice | China Daily | Updated: 2017-04-14 08:30

In January, I watched the first-ever China-UK freight train pull into London's Barking Station in front of a crowd of reporters, several diplomats and a troupe of lion dancers.

I tried to figure out what was on its way from Yiwu, Zhejiang province-household wares, bags and socks-and wondering what would go the other way.

That question remains up in the air. Regardless, it was evident to those in attendance that the Belt and Road Initiative had well and truly arrived in Britain. The promising proposal was now tangible, and wrought from iron and steel.

It was a journey many years in the making. While the Belt and Road route to England terminates at Barking, the UK's involvement in the initiative was plotted from the country's northern region under the last government.

China was by a long way the biggest foreign presence at this year's UK Northern Powerhouse International Conference and Exhibition in Manchester. Representatives of Chinese banks mingled in the exhibition hall, which had stalls laid out by the China-Britain Business Council and the China-UK Business Centre.

Although different in scale, there are parallels between the Belt and Road Initiative and the UK's Northern Powerhouse. Both are concerned with regeneration, economic development and infrastructure, and the countries have relied on each other to bring the initiatives to life.

George Osborne, the former UK chancellor and a champion of the Northern Powerhouse, identified China as the largest potential source of foreign investment for northern projects. Meanwhile China has viewed the UK as its strongest Belt and Road ally in the West since it joined the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank two years ago.

The two nations then formed the UK-China Infrastructure Alliance, along with an associated government-backed academy at University College London.

In infrastructure development, it is clear the UK and China share a mutual interest and a desire for bilateral support. And with the billions of pounds of investment Chinese companies have funneled into northern England, coupled with the multitude of British businesses at work in Belt and Road nations, it is obvious that the support is there.

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