Last year we reported on China’s plans to extend its high-speed rail network all the way to Europe, and today the country announced that the first step of this grand plan is underway with work in progress to stretch the nation’s rail system across Asia. China stated that they will first begin to extend their tracks into northern Laos, with the eventual goal of expanding the high-speed rail into Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.
Of course there are some major obstacles standing in the way of a pan-Asian high-speed network. Firstly, China’s rail network has been accused of construction fraud, lack of users and severe safety issues, but there is also the problem that Laos is one of the poorest countries in Asia. Currently, the country has only two miles of rail lines, but the government is hoping that by extending China’s high-speed network they will see an increase in tourism, gambling and local construction jobs.
While the benefits are clear for Laos, the question is: What does China get out of this? The answer is economic stability and security. While trade with the West is currently strong, there is always the possibility of a natural disaster or a conflict preventing the moving of goods. As such, a high-speed network with fellow Asian nations would allow China to trade goods with its neighbours.
The world is still many steps from a global high-speed rail network, but it’s nice to see China aiming high.
Photo by Benjamin Lowy