PRC Regional Hegemony and the New Silk Road

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 8/10/2010 12:12:00 AM
As if we needed more proof that China has a real "mind behind" what is doing compared to certain relatively clueless imperialists descending into fiscal decay, here comes another piece in the puzzle. Something I've learned from our Chinese colleagues is the importance they place on infrastructure development. From Africa to the Middle East, they are building things that last, not empires of subprime junk (securities). It's something that Americans have never really furnished to others out of the goodness of their hearts. Heck, you can argue America's transportation infrastructure is becoming increasingly decrepit along with the rest of its lot as its budgetary woes enter the stratosphere. If the United States--increasingly paranoid after 9/11--jams entry points from NAFTA "partners" Canada and Mexico, what more to Latin America?

In contrast, China is acting like a good neighbour to many of its surrounding countries, albeit with geostrategic imperatives always in mind. Hearkening back to the Silk Road of yore, plans are afoot to link up the region terrestrially (and, in the process, limit a certain navally dominant imperator from jamming sea lanes if push ever comes to shove). Let us begin with an article which appeared some months ago in the Independent:
High-speed rail is the only way to travel in China these days, with bullet trains zipping along thousands of miles of track at speeds of up to 220 miles an hour. Now China is planning a new Iron Silk Road to link it with 17 countries in central and southeast Asia, using the same state-of-the-art technology.

Imagine the spectacular train ride from Shanghai to Singapore via Rangoon [Yangon]; or from Kunming in south-western Yunnan province to New Delhi, Lahore and on to Tehran. You could board at Harbin at China's border with Russia in Heilongjiang province, and embark on an epic voyage to eastern and southern Europe via Russia...

Nations along the three planned routes are being offered all kinds of lures to agree to the high-speed lines. Cash-poor Burma's high-speed rail network is being built in exchange for raw materials for export to China, such as lithium. Central Asian economies that pump gas and oil to China are also being given financial assistance.

Eventually the plan is to board the train in London and arrive in Beijing two days later, having passed through Germany, Kazakhstan and Xinjiang province. Wang Mengshu, a rail consultant and member of the prestigious Chinese Academy of Engineering, predicts the London route will be ready by 2025...

The technology has been developed with plenty of input from foreign rail companies, and Chinese engineers readily admit that its bullet trains and rail lines have "absorbed" many ideas from the West. But China has been speedy in getting the technology to work, and this success is what they hope will translate well abroad. Chinese companies are building high-speed lines in Turkey and Venezuela, and are soon to bid for contracts in the US. Like China's burgeoning influence, the Silk Road could soon extend around the globe.
Indeed, TIME has a more recent article suggesting that America is already well behind China in terms of railway infrastructure. As China plies its newfound rail engineering expertise for commercial gain abroad, one of its potential clients is (surprise) the land of Amcrap, I mean, Amtrak:
There is, however, the possibility that China could cushion the risk by exporting its rail expertise. State media report that Beijing wants to expand high-speed rail to more than a dozen Asian nations, eventually building a high-speed grid that would link China to Europe. Already, Chinese firms have begun to win key rail projects overseas. Last year, Saudi Arabia awarded the $1.8 billion first phase of a high-speed rail link between Mecca and Medina to a consortium that includes the state-owned China Railway Construction Corporation. Chinese companies are building high-speed-rail projects in Venezuela and Turkey, and the Ministry of Railways is even organizing a Chinese bid for California's proposed $45 billion project to build a high-speed-rail network linking the southern and northern parts of the state.

The American train system could certainly use a boost. It now has just one high-speed line in operation, Amtrak's Acela Express between Boston and Washington, D.C., which averages a measly 116 km/h. That laggardness isn't lost on ordinary Chinese. "Chinese trains have gotten so much better," says Xu Wenhong, a 55-year-old schoolteacher traveling on the train from Hangzhou to Beijing to see his newborn granddaughter. "Now even the U.S. is thinking of buying them." He smiles with satisfaction as we speed into the future at 200 km/h.
In infrastructure terms, think of America as a big pothole on the world map; it's pretty much shot (as if that weren't obvious). Let China show us the way as it reincarnates the Silk Road.