BEIJING • China has invited British Prime Minister Theresa May to attend a major summit in May on its "One Belt, One Road" initiative to build a new Silk Road, diplomatic sources told Reuters, as London said she would visit China this year.
One Belt, One Road is Chinese President Xi Jinping's landmark programme to invest billions of dollars in infrastructure projects including railways, ports and power grids across Asia, Africa and Europe.
China has dedicated US$40 billion (S$56.8 billion) to a Silk Road Fund and the idea was the driving force behind the establishment of the US$50 billion China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
China has so far given few details about who will attend the summit, to be held in Beijing.
The country's top diplomat, State Councillor Yang Jiechi, told the official China Daily last week that leaders from about 20 countries, representing Asia, Europe, Africa and Latin America, have confirmed their participation, though he did not give names.
One Beijing-based diplomatic source with direct knowledge of the invitation list told Reuters that Mrs May was among the leaders who had been invited.
"China is choosing the countries it sees as friends and who will be most influential in promoting One Belt, One Road,"said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Two other diplomatic sources confirmed Mrs May was on the invitation list.
"It's China's most important diplomatic event of the year," one of the sources told Reuters.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said plans for the summit are proceeding smoothly and that details of the participants will be announced at a later date.
"China welcomes Prime Minister May to visit China at the appropriate time," he told a daily news briefing.
Sri Lanka has already confirmed its prime minister will be going, and China says Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will also be attending.
Foreign leaders often combine attendances at important multilateral events China is hosting with official state visits to the country.
Speaking in London, Mrs May's aides confirmed she would visit China this year to discuss trade ties, the latest in a series of foreign trips to cement relations with major powers as she negotiates Britain's divorce from the European Union.
Her aides gave few details about the trip, but Mrs May is keen to strengthen her hand by securing foreign support before launching Brexit talks, which are set to be among the most complicated Britain has ever undertaken.
Mrs May attended a summit in China of the Group of 20 leading economies last September, shortly after she became prime minister following June's referendum vote to leave the EU, and was invited by Mr Xi to visit again.