China is pressing ahead with its interest in the United Kingdom’s controversial HS2 project, the largest high speed rail project in Europe, despite growing concerns over its cost and economic benefits. Members of China’s government and biggest state-owned railway companies met with HS2 chief executive Mark Thurston in Beijing earlier this month, signalling China’s interest in the £55.7 billion (US$72.9 billion) project, which will be funded by British taxpayers. China is bidding for construction contracts. According to a brief statement on the website of China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC, the state planner), the Chinese side was represented by China Railway Corporation, the country’s high-speed rail network operator and CRRC, the country’s rolling stock manufacturer. Also in attendance were China Railway Construction Corporation and China Railway Group, China’s two state-owned railway builders. China Railway Signal and Communication Corporation, the high-speed railway signal developer, also sent a delegate for the meeting. While the statement did not provide details about the content of the discussions, it suggested China’s interest in providing a wholesale package to build the UK’s second high-speed railway line. The high speed rail project has two phases. The first covers the route between London and the West Midlands, while the second phases runs from the West Midlands to Leeds and Manchester. The UK government has said that HS2 will help to create more jobs and better connect eight of the UK’s 10 largest cities. However, there have been mounting questions from the public about HS2’s actual costs and its value for money. In January this year former HS2 chairman Terry Morgan told the House of Lords economic affairs select committee that “everybody has their own guesstimate” and “nobody knows, actually, the number”. Chris Stokes, a former director at British Rail, told the same committee that there was a “close to zero” chance of HS2 being built within the £56 billion budget “unless there are changes of scope” and that “the suggestion that HS2 will free up commuting capacity Leeds and Manchester simply isn’t true”. China and the UK agreed in 2017 to promote China’s participation in the second phase of the HS2, including on railway development planning, laws and regulations, railway construction, design, equipment supply, technical service cooperation and third-party market cooperation. The state-owned China Railway is among the bidders for the project, as Beijing attempts to push its “Belt and Road Initiative” further into Europe. Railway construction has been made a priority sector by the Chinese government in its bid to boost overseas sales. It is aimed that the rail construction will help boost China-EU trade. Last month, according to Ministry of Transport figures cited in state-owned media, 13,000 cargo trains travelled on the China-Europe Railway Express, of which 70 per cent began in Xinjiang, even sending locally produced tomato source to Italy. Chinese state-owned enterprises have in the past five years carried out 3,116 investment projects in countries covered by the belt and road, according to figures released last year by the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC). SASAC said that Beijing-controlled firms accounted for half of those building belt and road infrastructure projects and more than 70 per cent of the combined value of contracts launched under the initiative. This has led to strong criticism from governments in Europe and the United States, which have accused China of operating tender processes without transparency and openness.