Saturday, January 4, 2014

China's High Speed Rail Web

The real problem with these schemes is that quite like those of the nineteenth century, unless founded on a sane economic driver, they will crash and burn sooner than later.  In China’s case, pushing population into the desert is an artificial construct that is likely to end looking pretty sick.

In Canada we have a couple thousand miles of track in the boreal forest that exists solely because the international border cuts through the Great Lakes.  Yet our best intercontinental rail system runs from Prince Rupert straight to Chicago and from there to Montreal and New Orleans.  It is all long flat and straight with little grade.

Building track in the Chinese heartland is an excellent idea and that has been done well.  Creating a hub at Kunming and establishing a link to the Indian Rail System is sound business that wonderfully serves Southeast Asia.  It is a logical solution independent of international boundaries.

All the other schemes are not convincing until the track connects into Tashkent at least.  Particularly the Afghan corridor idea.  

DECEMBER 17, 2013

The great imperialists of the 19th Century built railroads to solidify their control of vast expanses of land and incorporate their territory into modern industrial economies. And although the construction of railroads may seem archaic today, the government of China has demonstrated the relevance of high speed rail in both internal state building and external diplomacy. 

China vast high-speed rail projects including a new line, which “will incorporate into the network three provinces covering about 30% of China’s land area.” The new line connects Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang (China’s western most province and home to its Uighurs) with Lanzhou, capital of Gansu. There is little economic activity between these cities and the rugged land between them is mostly empty. 

The Xinjiang-Lanzhou line is symbolic and political. Xinjiang has seen the most political unrest of any part of China in the recent past. The construction of a major rail line underlines Chinese control of the territory and incorporates it further into the heartland. Moreover, the new line has led to a boom in development at stations along it, attracting ever more ethnic Han Chinese from the coastland and diminishing the Uighur majority there. Secondly, Xinjiang is rich in natural resources (especially coal) and a key transit corridor to Central Asia—from which China seeks to secure its future energy supply, along with other key natural resources.

Kunming becoming the Capital of mainland Southeast Asia

Connectivity between mainland Southeast Asia and southern China is growing much faster than intra-ASEAN connectivity, and the strategic geography of East Asia is thereby being changed forever. Driven by the high-speed rail networks, new roads and telecommunication facilities centring on Kunming, together with China’s burgeoning economic engagement—both trade and investment—with the Greater Mekong area, mainland Southeast Asia (Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore) is in the process of disconnecting from maritime Southeast Asia. This will, almost inevitably, result in ASEAN dividing along this fault line. And when the people of the mainland countries soon find, through the convenience of HSR, that Kunming is their ‘closest neighbor’ but a few hours away, the Yunnan capital will gradually emerge as the hub of the Greater Mekong Region and will eventually become, in effect, the capital of mainland Southeast Asia.


In his book The Revenge of Geography, Robert Kaplan writes, “China has a vision of Afghanistan (and of Pakistan) as a secure conduit for roads and energy pipelines that will bring natural resources from Indian Ocean ports, linking up with Beijing’s budding Central Asian dominion-of-sorts.” The construction of a high-speed railroad will free up existing line to be used exclusively for freight. Thus, this new high speed line—along with the conventional Qinghai-Tibet Railway (perhaps the great engineering feat of this century so far)—physically, politically, and economically links the periphery to the center. 

Military deployments are ephemeral: roads, rail links, and pipelines can be virtually forever.”

Rome used roads and commerce to dominate and draw in neighboring countries

No comments: