China drafts in Atkins and UK to help with ‘Maritime Silk Road’ plan

China’s strategic goal of creating a string of sea ports and trading hubs connecting its east coast to the Mediterranean, dubbed the "21st Century Maritime Silk Road", got a boost yesterday with the signing of a cooperation agreement between state-owned China Communications Construction Company Ltd. (CCCC) and UK design and engineering consultant Atkins.

Eric Pickles, UK Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, was also on hand to witness the signing in Guangzhou, and expressed willingness to promote cooperation between CCCC and the UK on the new maritime trade route, according to a statement issued by CCCC.

The signing took place at the site of a new waterfront development in Guangzhou called Window of Canton (pictured). Designed by Atkins for CCCC, the commercial centre symbolises Guangzhou’s renewed openness to global trade.

Atkins and CCCC, the fourth biggest contractor in the world according to Engineering News-Record’s latest ranking, will cooperate globally to develop what CCCC called an "exchange and cooperation platform" for the Maritime Silk Road.

CCCC said it will draw from Atkins’ "advanced construction ideas and experience in the UK and the whole world to drive the development of the exchange and cooperation platform".

CCCC said it currently has construction and investment projects around the world, from Malaysia to the Indian Peninsula, from the Middle East to the Mediterranean and the EU.

China’s plan is to build hard and soft maritime infrastructure throughout the Indo-Pacific region, including new ports and special economic zones around them. 

Analysts say Beijing wants to help the countries on the route improve customs coordination and develop the necessary institutions to facilitate travel and trade.

An example of the sort of project that falls under China’s Silk Road strategy is Sri Lanka’s new Colombo Port City, for which construction began in September, funded by a $1.5bn loan from China.

In April Atkins signed a global cooperation agreement with CCCC subsidiary, China Harbour Engineering Company, which was appointed to build Colombo Port City.

China is also planning an overland version of the ancient Silk Route, a 6,000-km high-speed link from China’s western Xinjiang Province that passes through Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran and Turkey to Bulgaria and, from there, straight into the heart of Western Europe.

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