Chinese Premier Li Keqiang talks with Thai PM Yingluck Shinawatra in Bangkok, Thailand, on October 12. Photo: AFP
After rapid development of China's high-speed railway technology in recent years, the country is hoping to export its expertise in the area to Thailand.
During a state visit to Thailand from October 11 to 13, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang introduced China's high-speed railway technology, which could form part of the two countries' efforts to boost their bilateral trade.
Cooperation with Thailand on rail construction is expected, because China's high-speed rail technology is now advanced and reliable, and its costs are reasonable, said Li in Thailand.
Railway cooperation could open a new phase in relations between China and Thailand, he noted. During Premier Li's visit, an exhibition about China's high-speed rail technology also opened in Bangkok.
Compared with other countries, China's high-speed rail technology is advanced and the costs are lower, Wang Mengshu, a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, told the Global Times Monday.
More importantly, China now has a lot of experience in running high-speed railways, said Wang.
The country has rich experience of constructing and operating high-speed railways in different geological and weather conditions, National Business Daily reported on October 14.
China had about 10,000 kilometers of high-speed railway lines in operation by the end of September, according to the Xinhua News Agency.
"High-speed rail is to China what watches are to Switzerland, electric appliances to Japan, and machinery to Germany," said Wang.
Wang's view was echoed by Li Hongchang, associate professor at the School of Economics and Management at Beijing Jiaotong University.
"China's high-speed rail technology is competitive, as we have much experience in rail construction, train supply and also management," Li told the Global Times Monday.
The construction fee for high-speed rail is $50 million per kilometer in most countries, while the fee in China is $33 million, the Xinhua News Agency reported on November 3, citing Wang Mengshu.
This gives China an advantage in the drive to export the technology to Thailand.
"The high-speed technologies are all controlled by China Railway Corporation. In other countries it is difficult to export all the technologies since they are controlled by different companies," Ji Jialun, a professor at the School of Traffic and Transportation at Beijing Jiaotong University, was quoted as saying by China Times on November 7.
"As for critical technological areas like safety management and risk control for high-speed rail, China has made many improvements in the last two years," Sun Zhang, a professor at the Institute of Railway and Urban Mass Transit at Tongji University, was quoted as saying by the China Times report.
Also, geographically it is possible for China to transport equipment and materials to Thailand by land, said Wang.
Obstacles on the track
One shadow over the process is the accident in 2011, which tarnished the image of China's high-speed rail system, said Li.
A high-speed train crashed into another one near Wenzhou in East China's Zhejiang Province on July 23, 2011, resulting in 40 casualties, according to Xinhua.
Also, there is a lot that needs to be learned when heading overseas, such as being familiar with local laws, customs and the political environment, according to Li.
There still needs to be improvement in management efficiency and training of maintenance personnel, said Wang.
Zhao Jian, a professor at the School of Economics and Management at Beijing Jiaotong University, offered a cautionary note. Building railways is feasible in Thailand, but there are more risks with high-speed railways, Zhao told the Global Times Tuesday.
"Financial problems need to be considered, and whether there is a market for high-speed rail," said Zhao, adding that the Chinese government risks making a loss by building high-speed railways in Thailand.
The total debts racked up by the former Ministry of Railways, which is now the China Railway Corporation, were close to 2.8 trillion yuan in 2012, according to an annual audit report into the former railway ministry.
Most of the debt came from building high-speed railways in China, said Zhao.
China also faces competition in bidding for the railway project in Thailand, with enterprises from Japan, South Korea and France showing an interest as well, according to China Times. Thai Transport Minister Chadchart Sittipunt also said that more bidders will be invited, the report said.
Among them, Japan's Shinkansen high-speed rail network could be a strong competitor for China, according to China Times.
In 2012, Japan's investment in Thailand was the equivalent of 74.6 billion yuan, accounting for 58 percent of the total foreign investment in the country, according to China Times.
Meanwhile, China's investment in Thailand was about 3.5 billion yuan in the first eight months of this year.
Premier Li Keqiang and Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra agreed on a target for bilateral trade between the two countries to reach $100 billion by 2015. The bilateral trade was about $70 billion this year, the Bangkok Post reported on October 11.
In the next five years, China will import 1 million tons of rice from Thailand, as well as other agricultural products and rubber, according to media reports.
Premier Li Keqiang's visit was partly aimed at seeking business for China's high-speed rail technology, AP reported on October 11.
It would offer a win-win outcome if China succeeds in its bid for the Thai rail construction contract, Tian Wenlin, associate researcher with the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, was quoted as saying by China Times.
On the one hand, the "high-speed rail diplomacy" with Thailand could make it easier in future for China to export its rail technology to other Southeast Asian countries, Tian said. And on the other hand, "the Thai economy would be greatly boosted by high-speed rail construction."