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Railway projects in China: a ploy of political genius

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Amid the protracted clash between Indian and Chinese military at the country’s northern borders, China announced on the sidelines of its annual parliamentary session the construction of the new $ 48 billion, 1,011 km railway line for connect Chengdu (the capital). of his province of Sichuan) with Linzhi or Nyingchi (near the border of Tibets with Arunachal Pradesh) is not without strategic intention. Whether it’s road, rail or sea links along and within Pakistan, Nepal, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, China is developing connectivity multimodal spread throughout the Indian quarter, considered, not without reason, as a containment of India.

Realizing the strategic importance of the railways as a lifeline of its economic and military might, transcontinental rail connectivity has been China’s only ploy in political genius. At a rate and to an extent unknown in history, China has funneled massive investments into the expansion and revitalization of its railways, including the new Eurasian land bridge similar to the legendary Silk Road to through its autonomous region of Xinjiang, Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland and Poland. Germany.

All around India, China shares land borders with the five ASACR countries, looks at the Chickens Neck at one sixth, and has a long border with Myanmar. The formidable presence of China in terms of rail and road projects in the North of India is characterized by the Golmud-Lhasa railway line, the highest in the world, of 1142 km, opened in July 2006. in 2014 n ‘ is a precursor of a 400 km extension not only to Nyalam, on the border with Nepal, and a probable 120 km connection to Kathmandu, but also to Dromo, near Bhutan and Sikkim, and further to Linzhi / Nyingchi at the gates of Arunachal Pradesh.

Myanmar represents a vital missing link between the possible land bridge connecting South Asia and southwest China, on the way to Europe. The 232 km Lashio-Muse / Ruili railway line that China is building would provide a strategic link through an extensive rail network across Myanmar. In the grip of the Malacca dilemma, China feverishly built an 1,100 km-long pipeline to exploit the rich gas fields of Shwe from the deep-water port of Kyaukpyu on the Myanmars Arakan coast to Kunming in the province of Yunnan. China’s development assistance to Bangladesh will likely include the construction of the second Padma Bridge and a 130 km railway line between Chittagong and Gundam on the Myanmar-Bangladesh border.

On the eastern flank of India, as Professor Wang Mengshu of Beijing’s Jiaotong University explained, China is keenly considering connecting Kunming to Yangon in Myanmar via a 1920 km railway line, while at the same time pursuing the ambitious SKRL (Singapore-Kunming Rail Line). crossing Thailand and Laos to Singapore. The planned commissioning of the 414 km Vientiane-Boten railway line in 2022 is estimated at $ 6 billion, or nearly a third of Laoss’s GDP! China is helping Thailand to have a 250 km high-speed railway connecting Bangkok and Nakhon Ratchasima, and extended to Nong Khai to connect Laos under the SKRL.

In the south, as part of its String of Pearls strategy of links with regional maritime nations, China has funded almost all of Sri Lanka’s major infrastructure projects: a new seaport in Hambantota, a storage facility oil, a new airport, thermal power plant, highway, and special economic zone at Mirigama near Colombo, in addition to rebuilding main roads in the war-ravaged north and east.

On the western flank of India, China has planned strategic links with Pakistan, Iran and all of Central Asia, integrating the Gilgit-Baltistan section in the PoK into its Xinjiang logistics network for road access and unimpeded railway to the Gulf, thus widening the Karakoram Highway. and the planning of a 900 km railway line from the port of Gwadar in Balochistan on the southwest coast of Pakistan near the Strait of Hormuz to join the line along Koh-e-Taftan (at the Iranian border) to Spezand-Quetta-Chaman (in Afghanistan border) via the Khunjerab pass in the Karakoram to Kashgar in China, which is connected to Xigaze, already connected by rail to Lhassa.

China’s frenetic infrastructure development in the Central Asian Republics (CAR) signifies its long-term strategic and economic stakes in the region, aptly described by Chinese General Liu Yazhou as the biggest piece of cake offered to the Chinese modern by the heavens. Extensive rail infrastructure revolutionized the Eurasian transit regime, particularly through Kazakhstan, and the 268 km link from Kashi in western China through southern Kyrgyzstan and Andizhan in Uzbekistan, not to mention the eight new lines in Iran, including the 370 km from Qazvin. Rasht-Astara line forming a north-south corridor towards Azerbaijan and Russia. Today, China operates regular containerized freight trains to several European destinations via the CAR, Iran and Turkey.

Chinese footprints extend to most of ASEAN’s rail systems. Indonesia has the $ 5.5 billion 150 km high-speed rail link under construction between Jakarta and Bandung. The 257 km railway line from Bat Doeng near Phnom Penh to the border near Loc Ninh is proposed to join the 128 km line to Ho Chi Minh City. China is already linked by rail to Vietnam by the 195 km (1,435 mm / 1,000 mm) double-track line between Hanoi and Dong Dang. The $ 27 billion East Coast Rail Line project in Malaysia promoted under Najib Razak’s regime, canceled by his successor Mahathir Mohamad, is being renegotiated.

Most of the Chinese-backed rail projects in the region, like the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in general, have been widely described as Chinese debt trap diplomacy, linking developing countries to China through the accumulation of infrastructure-related debts. Under no circumstances can the high-cost, Chinese-assisted railway lines under construction in Laos, Cambodia or Thailand be financially viable. Beijing pressured a debt-trapped Tajikistan to cede 1,158 km2 of land because it owed China $ 1.2 billion out of a total debt of $ 2.9 billion. China’s ultimate takeover of the Hambantota Port Complex in Sri Lanka is well known.

Like its fastest-speed trains in the world, China has sprinted in an effort to make its mark on developing countries and influence people. Pursuing President Xi Jinpings’ great political-economic project, the BIS, China threw soft terms with a handful of dollars appealing to countries where it wanted to strengthen its presence and stimulate demand for its goods, capital and labor. of work. Whether it’s the $ 60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor or a myriad of infrastructure projects in India’s neighborhood, these provide China with the icing on the cake, serving as they are doing it to the PRC’s arch strategy to contain and intimidate India.

The author is Principal Investigator, Asian Institute for Transport Development, Delhi. Opinions are personal

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