China is on its way on realizing its dream of constructing a super-scale, trans-border, high-speed railway line project in South East Asia. The plan known as the Trans-Asian Railway consists of six different lines approaching Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, Malaysia, and extends as far as Singapore.
The plan is to seemingly link almost every major city in South East Asia, and listing the projects alone is exhausting. According to the China Train Weather Network (Huoche Tianqi) report;
the first railway goes through Singapore – Kuala Lumpur – Bangkok – Phnom Penh – Lu Ning – Ho Chi Minh – Hanoi – Lao Cai – Kunming, with total length of 5,328 km and estimated cost of 1.8 billion USD.
The second goes through Singapore – Kuala Lumpur – Bangkok – Yangon – Kunming, with total length of 5,328 km and estimated total cost of 6 billion USD.
The third line (3A Line) goes to Singapore – Kuala Lumpur – Bangkok – Vientiane – Wan An – Hanoi – Kunming, with a total estimated cost of 1.1 billion USD.
The fourth line (3B line) crosses five countries from Singapore – Kuala Lumpur – Bangkok – Vientiane to Kunming, with total length of 1,300 km and estimated cost of 5.7 billion USD.
The fifth (3C line) goes from Singapore – Kuala Lumpur – Bangkok – Savannakhet – DongHa – Hanoi – Kunming. With total length of 616 km and estimated cost 1.1 billion USD.
The sixth (3D line): Singapore – Kuala Lumpur – Bangkok – Vientiane – Kunming, with estimated cost of 1.1 billion USD.
The plan has been a longtime goal of the nation’s railway extension, and last year, China’s Premier Li Keqiang discussed the proposal with the Lao government, receiving positive feedback from the Laos authorities.
The bilateral talks between China and ASEAN countries regarding the Trans-Asian Railway were not finalized in Laos. Chairman Xi Jinping took part in diplomatic negotiations with Thai Prime Minister Yingluck on October 4, 2013, and separately with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak later in the month. The talks covered comprehensive strategic partnerships between the countries, including the high-speed railway plan.
Despite talks going smoothly, the Trans-Asian Railway project has received criticism:
“Of course Lao people are worried about the impact of the railway and the number of Chinese coming here, but the reality is that we can’t stop the Chinese. They are everywhere already and there are so many of them. If they want to come to Laos, they will,” a teacher in Oudomxai, Laos told the Telegraph, concerning his worries on the impact of the railway crossing his village.
With the plan involves neighboring countries, billions of dollars in cost, and years of construction, the plan is also likely to result in a domino-effect impacts regarding the political, economic, and geographical relationships for all the nations inquestion. While possibly resulting in economic growth amongst the countries, the railway may highlight the extensive wealth gaps and poverty lines in some of the targeted developing countries:
“Where you have transport, you have a greater level of human activities and human interaction… Some of these activities and interactions may be negative, [such as] trafficking and an impact on the environment. You may have to displace some communities,” said Shamali Guttal, a senior researcher for the development NGO Focus on the Global South, as stated on the Common Language Project.
China might the leading countries when it comes to ‘Train Imperialism’. China Economic Weekly reported that, as of the end of 2010, China had more than 50 countries and regions that it hopes to establish a high-speed rail partnership with, the total value of the contracts standing at 26 billion USD. MoRE recently, Premier Li Keqiang stated its interest in building rail links for HS2, the UK high-speed train network, during UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s visit to Beijing last month.