Sunday, June 3, 2012

Chinese High Speed Rail: Eurasian Land Bridges

My research interests recently have been captivated by Eurasian great-power competition, and as such I have been working on drafting and updating a longer article on the subject.  Accordingly, I will be posting them here, and welcome any comments or suggestions (either through blog comments or emails).  Sorry if some of this information is redundant based on past writings, but who really cares.  My most recent draft is focused on Chinese High Speed Rail networks.


III.  The Chinese-Turkish Relationship Grows.
Of course, as Ankara has turned away from its Western partners, the Chinese have moved in to the power vacuum with their brand of economic diplomacy.  The current Turkey-Chinese relationship can be dated back to an October 2010 visit to Ankara by Chinese Premier Wen Jaibao.  The stage for the visit was set by an unprecedented occurrence earlier in the month, when China and Turkey held joint military air exercises, the first Chinese air force exercises to ever be held in a NATO state.[1]  Almost as significant was the fact that the Chinese fighter jets had flown over Pakistan and Iran in order to reach the Anatolian plateau.  Considering that only one year earlier the Turkish leadership had been vocally angry about Chinese protest crackdowns in the ethnically Turkic Xinjiang province in western China, these developments signaled a major reapproachment.

On his visit, Jaibo’s main topic of discussion was increasing the already large trade between Turkey and China, which in 2009 amounted to $10 billion.  Jaibo pledged to raise this to $50 billion by 2015, and $100 billion by 2020.[2]  Moreover, he stressed that this trade should use Turkish and Chinese currency, leaving the U.S. dollar out in the cold.  The Turkish message was that increasing trade between two of world’s booming economy was great, but that an effort needed to be made to even out the balance, as Turkey was running up large trade-deficits buying Chinese goods.

Also of major discussion was Chinese investment in Turkish infrastructure, most importantly high-speed rail lines, which China has become the worlds leading producer of.  A report from the U.S. Jamestown Foundation lays out the details:
China’s high-speed railways are already the world’s longest and fastest, with speeds of up to 350 km per hour. As Beijing Jiaotong University Professor, Wang Mengshu, stated that China is “aiming for the trains to run almost as fast as airplanes.” Cheap construction costs and technological expertise might enable China to outperform Japan, Germany, and France. Reportedly, other countries, particularly India, have reached out to China to construct railway networks, with Russia, the US, Saudi Arabia, and Poland already considering China for their railway plans.[3]
At the time of Jaibo’s visit, Chinese Civil Engineering Construction Corp led consortium was already at work building the second phase of a planned 533km Istanbul-Ankara high-speed rail line, cutting the travel time between the two metropolis’ down from 7 hours to less than four.  The first phase, which runs 200km west from Ankara to Eskisehir, was built by a Spanish company, opening in early 2009.  Phase 2, secured by the Chinese-led consortium in 2006 for $1.27 billion (the majority being Chinese government loans) runs 158km between Inonu and Kosekoy, over and through difficult mountainous terrain.  The line climbs from an elevation low of 20m above sea level to 800m, and features 55km of tunnels, and 10 km of bridges, the longest being 6 and 2 km respectively.[4]  It is set to open in 2013.

But this feat of engineering pales in wonder at the other high-speed rail line being planned between China and Turkey, the Edirne-Kars line, which transverses the entire 2,000 km breadth of Turkey and connects South and Central Asia to Europe. This is roughly the equivalent in distance of New York City to Miami, Florida. The Kars-Erdine rail corridor was neatly summed up in a report in the Turkish English-language newspaper Today's Zaman:
The line is designed to pass through 29 provinces, connecting the east and west of Turkey and reducing the duration of travel from the current 36 hours to 12. With the completion of the planned Edirne-Kars line, the total length of high-speed rail inside Turkey is expected to reach 10,000 kilometers by 2023. Under an agreement signed between China and Turkey in October 2010, China agreed to extend loans of $30 billion for the planned rail network. The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) railway connecting Azerbaijan's capital city of Baku to Kars, currently under construction, increases the strategic importance of the Edirne-Kars line.[5]
The Turkish-Chinese relationship was solidified in April 2012 when a large Turkish delegation led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited China, the highest-level visit for the Turkish leadership to Beijing in 27 years.  Of significant note, Erdogan began his visit in Urumqui, the capital of Xianjiang, the Western province home a Turkic, Muslim majority, as well as large oil deposits.  He was also granted high-level meetings with Vice President ­­­­­­­­Xi Jinping, slated to be the next Chinese President.[6]

Turkish-Chinese economic cooperation, led by the Edirne-Kars line, was the main point of discussion between the Turkish delegation and Chinese leadership. Chinese firms are bidding to build two nuclear power plants in Turkey, at Akkayu on the Mediterranean Coast and Sinop on the Black Sea, as well as a major bridge over the Bosporus and a proposed third airport in Istanbul. All together, 27 Chinese CEOs attended meetings with Turkish PM Erdogan on his visit to China.[7] 

But there is no doubt that solidifying Edirne-Kars was the highlight of the visit, and rightfully so, as the high-speed rail line would create a geopoliticial corridor with global ramifications.  For China, the rail line represented a large step in their Eurasian Land Bridge Strategy, designed to connect the massive Chinese factory base with the large markets of Western Europe by high speed rail, cutting the time needed for freight shipping in half compared to the maritime journey.  Edirne-Kars served as the final link in the planned third, southern Eurasian Land Bridge connecting the Chinese ports of Gaundong and Shenzhen to the Atlantic port of Rotterdam, and on the way hitting all the giant markets of Southern Asia, running through Myanmar, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Iran.  At this point, the line connects to Edirne-Kars, and then hooks up with the existing lines to Western Europe. Overall, the third land bridge would touch 20 countries and have a total length of about 15,000 kilometers, a distance 3,000-6,000 km less than the maritime journey through the Indian Ocean and the Straits of Malacca.  This plan was developed in 2009, at China's Pan Pearl River Delta Cooperation and Development Forum.  There is also future hope to build rail lines from Turkey down through Syria, Palestine, and Egypt, connecting China directly to the African continent.  Ankara has found itself once again in control of a globally important land-bridge, and by all appearances they are taking full advantage of their geography and developing the worlds latest infrastructure.  As it was put by Selcuk Colakoglu, director of Asia-Pacific Studies at Ankara-based International Strategic Research Organization, “Turkey has transformed itself from a security state to a trading state during the past decade. If you want to be a trading state, you should have a very developed transportation link."[8]


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For an example of how the high speed rail networks effect commerce, one has to only turn back a year, to the launch of China's Second Eurasian Land Bridge Project, rail lines that run through Kazakhstan to Russia, then through Beluras to Western Europe.  May 2011 saw the launch of five-day-a-week direct freight rail service from Antwerp, Europe's second largest port and rail-hub, to Chongquin, the industrial center in southwest China.  It now only takes 20-25 for cargo like automotive and chemical goods to traverse Eurasia, compared to the 36-day maritime journey.  There are, however, plans to quickly cut the duration of the rail journey down to only 15-20 days, at which point the transcontinental journey would be cut in half, and the pace of industry doubled.[9] 

For BMW, this has already become a reality, with the October 2011 launch of daily freight shipments over high-speed rail from their plant in Liepzieg, Germany to Shenyang, in Northeast China, crossing a distance of 7,000 miles in only 23 days. According to Dr. Karl-Friedrich Rausch, a board member of DB Schencker, the transportation group that operates the German side of the railway, "the direct trains are twice as fast as maritime transport, followed by over-the-road transport to the Chinese hinterland."[10]

China has also been developing an inter Central Asian rail network, branching off from the main line in Kazakhstan.  One spur runs to the Uzbek capital of Tashkent, the largest city in Central Asia with a population over two million (Tashkent had been the 4th largest city in the USSR, and a major industrial center), and then connects to Samarkand, the second largest Uzbek city. A similar line is also being built between Kazakhstan’s two largest cities of Almaty and Astana.  Tajikistan and Kyrgzstan are working to secure funding for lines, as well.  Mongolia, which has begun to heavily exploit its resource base, is also factoring into the Chinese Land Bridge strategy.  As the economist F. William Engdahl puts it in an extensive article on the subject:
The aim is to literally create the world’s greatest new economic space and in turn a huge new market for not just China but all Eurasian countries, the Middle East and Western Europe. Direct rail service is faster and cheaper than either ships or trucks, and much cheaper than airplanes. For manufactured Chinese or other Eurasian products the rail land bridge links are creating vast new economic trading activity all along the rail line.[11]

[1] “China, Turkey Deepen Ties During Rare Visit,” Voice of America, 10/10/10. (http://www.voanews.com/content/china-turkey-deepen-ties-during-rare-visit-104723729/166476.html)
[2] Ibid.
[3] “The Implications of China’s High-Speed Eurasian Railway Strategy for Central Asia,” Roman Muzalevsky, Eurasia Daily Monitor, Vol. 7 Issue 64, 4/2/10. (http://www.jamestown.org/single/?no_cache=1&tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=36234)
[4] “High Speed Rail will set the pace in Turkey,” China Daily, 7/13/2011. (http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/cndy/2011-07/13/content_12888952.htm)
[5] “Turkey, China mull $35 bln joint high-speed railway project,” Sunday’s Zaman, 4/13/12. (http://www.sundayszaman.com/sunday/newsDetail_getNewsById.action?newsId=277360)
[6] “Eurasian Economic Boom and Geopolitics: China’s Land Bridge to Europe,” F. William Engdahl, Centre for Research on Globalization, 4/27/12. (http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=30575)
[7] “Turkey, China mull $35 bln joint high-speed railway project,” Sunday’s Zaman.
[8] “High Speed Rail will set the pace in Turkey,” China Daily.
[9] “Antwerp-Chongqing Direct Rail Freight Link Launched,” Industry Leaders Magazine, 5/12/11.  (http://www.industryleadersmagazine.com/antwerp-chongqing-direct-rail-freight-link-launched/)
[10] “BMW rides Orient Express to China,” Global Logistics, October 2011. (http://www.inboundlogistics.com/cms/article/global-logistics-october-2011/)
[11] “Eurasian Economic Boom and Geopolitics: China’s Land Bridge to Europe,” F. William Engdahl

2 comments:

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