China is clearly taking the lead on high-speed rail, but it is not satisfied just to have it within its own country. It wants a straight connection to Europe on high-speed rail now.
It might seem like a pipe dream if it weren’t for the fact that China is already about halfway through the construction of the largest high-speed rail (HSR) network in the world with the fastest trains in the world.
With its internal projects getting closer to completion, China’s new goal is to continue on with a HSR revolution internationally in order to create two-day HSR trip times between Beijing and London (which itself might get some pretty fast trains soon)!
But it is about much more than a rail connection or two to Europe.
The news of China’s plans were announced in the South China Morning Post this week. The international network is supposed to include a total of 17 countries.
As mapped, this is likely to be the largest infrastructure project in history.
It would also extend south to Singapore and northeast into Mongolia and Russia.
Its main connection to Europe would likely go through India, Pakistan and the Middle East. Although, exact routes are not yet determined.
Plans Moving Forward
Reportedly, negotiations with the relevant 17 countries are already underway.
China would like to fund the whole project itself in exchange for natural resources it lacks. One of the senior consultants working on the project, Wang Mengshu, said, “We would actually prefer the other countries to pay in natural resources rather than make their own capital investment.”
Myanmar and Russia already have rail links planned and China is also in communication with Iran, Pakistan and India regarding development of the internal rail lines in each of those countries that would connect to the network.
Additionally, construction for the Southeast Asia link has started and Burma is about to begin building its portion of the link.
The central and eastern European portions of the network are moving forward as well. “We have also already carried out the prospecting and survey work for the European network, and central and eastern European countries are keen for us to start,” Wang said.
China wants to complete this network in 10 years.
Clearly, China is intent on this for its own benefit. In exchange for developing the system, it could acquire tons of much needed natural resources from other countries, as stated above. However, perhaps more importantly, creating such a network would probably solidify China’s central role in the Asian economy and perhaps even the world economy.
Nonetheless, China says that other countries approached it for help and that is how the idea got started. “It was not China that pushed the idea to start with,” said Wang. “It was the other countries that came to us, especially India. These countries cannot fully implement the construction of a high-speed rail network and they hoped to draw on our experience and technology.”
So, presumably, all the countries connected to the network would benefit from better transportation options and increased mobility. However, with China at the center of the process, it is likely to be the biggest winner.
The countries perhaps losing out due to the system’s development and investment would be those across the ocean who are more reliant on international air travel.
Is China going to make the US’ HSR network (if it ever gets built) look like a toy train set? Is this huge system ever going to get built? Is it going to get built in 10 years as China hopes?
With transportation being a central factor influencing economies and power since at least as long back as large-scale transportation options were formed, the answers to these questions are going to be intrinsically tied to the balance of power in the world economy and global society.