China needs more open, transparent rail tender system to dispel quality concerns

By Xiao Xin Source:Global Times Published: 2017/3/26 22:33:39

China's rail boom is facing scrutiny over a subway cable scandal which recently brought to light shady tender deals and questionable quality authentication mechanisms.

While there remains no evidence that the fast-spreading scandal of substandard cables used on domestic subways and high-speed rails extends to the country's exports of its train technology, it should raise red flags for the government that China's rail diplomacy might backfire if its domestic train networks are of dubious quality.

Advisably, a more open and transparent tender system is needed to ensure quality rail services, an area related to public safety. More importantly, "quality first" should be embedded into the public's mentality to allow zero tolerance for any offense.

The scandal initially focused on the underground network in Xi'an, the capital of Northwest China's Shaanxi Province, when a whistle-blower, claiming to be an employee with Shaanxi Aokai Cable, posted an article online on March 13 accusing the cable firm of supplying the city's subway system with substandard products which could result in overheating and even possibly start a fire. The posting on, a popular online forum in China, revealed that Aokai Cable cut back on construction materials to render it the lowest price bidder. Corrupt practices involving multiple parties are also claimed to have cleared the way for the problematic cables to be marked as quality products and eventually installed on Subway Line 3 in Xi'an.

While many of the claims still need to be substantiated, it has been proven that cables provided by Aokai for Subway Line 3, which has been up and running since November 2016, are substandard. The Xi'an government has said that all substandard cables on the line will be replaced. More worryingly, media reports say that Aokai cables have already been installed or are about to be used in various underground systems and high-speed railways, putting a spotlight on the dubious supply chain in the country's rail industry.

To quell fears of faulty cables, State-owned China Railway Group said Friday it would carry out checks across the board and replace all Aokai cables. The pledge is arguably an indispensable remedy, but it's of greater urgency and importance to find out the root causes of the scandal and mull over actions to prevent it from happening again.

This means efforts need to be made to build a truly open and transparent tender system that closes loopholes for corrupt deals. Of course, that may be easier said than done. In a society that has yet to place quality as a top concern - local Xi'an residents still took the subway despite knowledge of the problematic cables, according to the Beijing News - it's more urgent that the public not tolerate any quality offenses.

Only in doing so will people in China not worry about rail safety, and the outside world will feel at ease importing China's train technology.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times.


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