Hammond to attend China's Belt and Road forum

FILE PHOTO: Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond attends the IMF and World Bank's 2019 Annual Spring Meetings, in Washington, April 13, 2019. REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan

LONDON (Reuters) - British finance minister Philip Hammond plans to attend meetings in China to discuss the country’s centrepiece international economic plans later this month, his department said.

Hammond attended the previous Belt and Road forum in 2017 to discuss the mammoth project which envisions rebuilding the old Silk Road to connect China with Asia, Europe and beyond with massive infrastructure spending.

President Xi Jinping’s new Silk Road initiative has been controversial particularly in Washington, which views it as a way to spread Chinese influence abroad and saddle countries with unsustainable debt, a charge Beijing rejects.

The United States is locked in a trade war with China.

Italy has already endorsed China’s ambitious project and Switzerland said on Tuesday it would sign an accord backing the initiative next month.

Britain is keen to cement closer ties with Beijing as the world’s fifth largest economy looks to re-invent itself as a global trading nation after it leaves the European Union.

The Treasury said Hammond would also discuss British-China bilateral economic and financial cooperation.

His visit will be subject to a clear parliamentary schedule in London where lawmakers are still trying to find a breakthrough in Brexit talks. They are likely to face more crucial votes in parliament in the coming weeks.

Reporting by William Schomberg; writing by Kate Holton; editing by Andy Bruce and Jane Merriman