|China Promotes Its Transcontinental Ambitions with Massive Rail Plan|
Transport Politics, 9 March 2010
China intends to extend its high-speed rail system towards south Asia and Europe with the goal of two-day journey times between London and Beijing.
If China weren’t already halfway through the construction of the world’s largest high-speed rail network, it would be difficult to take this proposal seriously. But the most populated country on earth has shown no deficit of skill recently in undertaking massive public works projects, and its ambitions — and willingness to finance them — show no sign of slowing.
So the news that China is planning a series of transcontinental high-speed rail lines designed to connect London to Beijing in just two days that broke yesterday in the South China Morning Post should be taken at face value. The proposal, which is mapped out above according to preliminary information about proposed alignments, would likely be the largest infrastructure project — ever. Taking the growing Chinese rail network as the starting point, new 200 mph lines would extend south towards Singapore, north and west into Siberia, and west through India, Kazakhstan, and Turkey, with the eventual goal of linking into the growing European fast train system.
Exact routes are not yet determined, but the general goal of the plan is to increase the region’s mobility through fast rail networks and to join together the mostly disconnected Asian and European systems.
Government officials in China plan to use this project to expand the country’s base of natural resources. Negotiations are already underway with 17 countries, premised on the idea that China would spend its own money building the rail links in exchange for resources it currently lacks. According to Wang Mengshu, a consultant working on the project, “We would actually prefer the other countries to pay in natural resources rather than make their own capital investment.”
China has already agreed to finance a rail link into Myanmar in exchange for the rights to that country’s lithium reserves. Russia and China have announced plans to build a new trans-Siberian link. Iran, Pakistan, and India are each negotiating with China to build domestic rail lines that would link into the overall transcontinental system.
It’s a sort of neo-imperialism desired by the countries to be colonized. Will they regret the selling off of their natural resources in exchange for better transportation offerings? Is this reasonable foreign investment on the part of China, or is it an attempt to take control of the economies of poor countries?
The strategy can’t be more clear: China wants to establish itself as the center of Asian trade, the hub of the world’s largest market. By developing the economies of Cental Asian and Eastern European countries that have missed out on the enormous growth currently being experienced by China, the region will experience increasing trade and development, a result that will in turn aid in expanding the Chinese economy. It would allow China to solidify its position as the dominant player in the Asian economy, with the goal of eliminating any hopes of increasing American or European influence there.
Though China’s economy continues to grow at an unbelievable pace, its slow-growth demographics resulting from the one-child policy mean that it must focus its efforts abroad if it wants to continue expansion into the future.
Despite China’s history of following through with its big rail plans, building a 17-country network is quite different than upgrading just its own lines. Some major problems, like track gauge differences and differing visa requirements, stand in the way of ever completing the project. If they get their way, however, Chinese officials want to complete the project in ten years. It’s an outrageous — and exciting — objective.
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