The British property company which transformed London’s Docklands into a world-leading financial hub is to play a key role in the development of a Chinese city that will ultimately dwarf Paris.
Sky News has learnt that Canary Wharf Group (CWG) is expected to announce during Theresa May’s trip to China that it has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the state-owned Bank of China and Xiong’An Construction Investment Group, which is owned by the provincial government of Hebei.
Sir George Iacobescu, CWG’s chairman and chief executive, is part of a business delegation travelling with the Prime Minister as part of her first trade mission to the world’s second-largest economy.
A Whitehall source familiar with the commercial deals being struck during the trip said CWG’s role building a new district in Xiong’An was highly significant, because the new conurbation is a flagship initiative of the Chinese President, Xi Jinping.
Xiong’An, which will initially occupy a 100 square-kilometre area, equivalent to the size of Paris, was announced last year as an important element of the Chinese government’s efforts to co-ordinate the development of a vast area around Beijing.
Image: Sky News has also revealed major investment in China by Aston Martin
Over time, China has drawn up plans for Xiong’An, which is 100km from both Beijing and Tianjin, to cover an area 20 times its initial size.
The MoU being signed this week is expected to see CWG leading and advising on the design, planning, construction, development and operational management of a new district focused on the financial and technology sectors.
The involvement of a UK property company in the project is also important because China has designated it part of the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ – a blueprint for the future of the country’s economy.
Mrs May is reported to be resisting pressure from President Xi to endorse the huge infrastructure plan, although she acknowledged in an article for the Financial Times on Wednesday that it had “the potential to be hugely significant for investment and have opportunities for businesses from outside China”.
CWG’s role in the Xiong’An project has the potential to be a major coup for Sir George, who is the only Romanian to be knighted by The Queen.
He is widely regarded as one of the most influential figures in the history of the British property industry, having led the Docklands’ transformation into 97 acres of prized retail and office space.
The MoU is one of scores of deals worth billions of pounds being signed between British and Chinese companies this week.
Sky News revealed on Tuesday that Aston Martin was poised to announce Chinese investment plans worth more than £600m, with BP and AstraZeneca among the companies expected to unveil agreements in the next 8 hours, according to sources.
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Government estimates ?of the value of previous UK-China deals have been criticised as fanciful, and sources said it was crucial that Mrs May’s trip provided a strong foundation for a post-Brexit trade agreement between the two countries.
The PM has spoken frequently of her ambition for a “global Britain”, but the UK continues to lag European rivals such as France and Germany in terms of the amount of business it does with China.
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While Mrs May’s delegation is much smaller than one which accompanied her predecessor, David Cameron, it is thought to be the largest to join her on any overseas trade mission since she became PM.
A Canary Wharf Group spokeswoman declined to comment on Wednesday.