High-speed rails set to surpass 13,000 km

By An Baijie Source:Global Times Published: 2011-1-5 17:53:00

China's growing high-speed rail network will surpass 13,000 kilometers this year, a senior railway official said Tuesday.

At the same time, the country's high-speed rail network will also reach beyond the nation's borders this year, an achievement that some speculate could impact geo-politics.

The domestic network reached 8,358 kilometers last year and Wednesday, China's railways feature the most advanced technology, the fastest in the world, and workers are building the largest rail projects ever, Minister of Railways Liu Zhijun said Tuesday.

The Beijing-Shanghai high-speed railway, which passes through seven provinces and municipalities over 1,318 kilometers, will begin operation in June, making the trip between the two booming cities in just four hours.

In comparison, it now takes two hours for a plane ride between the two cities.

The nation will pour another 700 billion yuan ($106 billion) into railway infrastructure construction this year, and the length of operational high-speed rails is set to surpass 16,000 kilometers by 2015, Liu said.

The construction of a 421-kilometer high-speed railway from Kunming in Yunnan Province to Vientiane, the capital of Laos, will start on April 25 and is scheduled to be completed by 2015, caing.com, a Beijing-based financial website, reported Tuesday.

The railway, which is expected to cost $7 billion, will be part of the 3,900-kilometer-long Pan-Asian rail network that will link with Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.

After it is completed by 2020 as expected, the trip from Kunming to Singapore will take 10 hours by train.

However, Xu Qingbin, a professor at Beijing Jiaotong University, told China Economic Times that both Southeast Asian countries and developed Western countries such as the US and France, have expressed enthusiasm about investing in high-speed railways in Southeast Asian countries.

Due to complicated international relations at the moment, the construction of cross-border rails is not only an economic problem, but also concerns China's international security, observers say.

Ji Qiufeng, a professor at the international relationship department in Nanjing University, told the Global Times that building rails that reach Southeast Asian countries holds strategic meaning for China.

"The Pan-Asian railways would provide China a more secure route to import strategic materials such as oil from the Middle East and West Africa," Ji said.

"Currently, the marine route through the Strait of Malacca is still dominated by the US, which poses lots of unpredictable risks to China's import," he warned.

The construction of the rails doesn't mean China plans to dominate the Indo- China Peninsula or challenge US influence in the region, Ji said, adding that it will be mutually beneficial to China and Southeast Asian countries.

Posted in: China Watch

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