Saturday, April 6, 2013
Chinese money brings big change:
A railway from the North of Laos to Vientiane
China has just opened the worlds longest Highspeed-Railway from Beijing in the north along 2298 km to the southern boom city of Guangzhou. There were a lot of international headlines around the first train on this line. And they helped to forget the big problems with Chinese Highspeed Trains as the Wenzou train collision in the not so far past.
But the Chinese Railway policy has much bigger ambitions. It is under way to create a Highspeed Railway System in Southeast Asia, linking China to Laos and Thailand and creating connections from China to Singapore.
Laos is forcing plans for a $7 billion railway link from the capital Vientiane in the South to the Chinese border in the North (passing the towns of Phonhong, Vangvieng, Luang Prabang, Oudomxay and Luang Namtha). The construction shall begin early in 2013. The line will be completed around 2014, said Laotian Deputy Prime Minister Somsavat Lengsavad at an international rail conference in Beijing. "While the exact route isn't clear, the rail line is expected to connect the southwest Chinese city of Kunming with Singapore, passing through Laos, Thailand and Malaysia", wrote wsj.com.
The project is financed by a 30-year loan from Export-Import Bank of China, according to rfa.org. China will be responsible for the construction. "Beijing is seeking to secure raw materials from neighboring countries to feed massive infrastructure investment and its manufacturing industry", wrote wsj.com. There is one more railway project in Laos: On December 24 a contract was signed for a US $5 billion railway line from Savannakhet to Lao Bao at Vietnam border. The construction is undertaken by Malaysian company Giant Consolidated, writes enjoy-laos.com.
Meanwhile preparations for four highspeed-railway lines in Thailand are going on. Funding is to come from a proposed 2-trillion-baht investment programme dedicated to new infrastructure projects over the next seven years. In November 2012 Finance Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong said according to Bangkok Post the government is planning four high-speed rail lines to support trade and tourism within the country. The four high-speed rail lines are Bangkok-Nong Khai-Vientiane; Bangkok-Ayutthaya-Chiang Mai; Bangkok to Hua Hin; and an expansion of the Airport Rail Link in Bangkok to Chon Buri, Pattaya and Rayong. These plans are supported by a Study of Thailand Development Research Institute Foundation. And China is aggressively lobbying the Thai government to select its train and construction technology, writes Bangkok Post. Chinese Deputy Railways Minister Lu Chunfang told Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra that its construction costs average only US$20 million per kilometre compared with $81 million in Japan and $50 million in Germany. Thailand and China signed a memorandum of understanding on April 15 to conduct a feasibility study for the Bangkok-Chiang Mai and Bangkok-Nong Khai high-speed rail links. Thailands government plans to open international bidding early next year on the first phase of the high-speed rail project. Chinese government officials advising Thailand have suggested that it begins with a 54km route linking Bangkok and Ayutthaya as it would fall in line with the government's push to have the ancient capital serve as host for the 2020 World Expo, noted Bangkok Post.
Update from April 5 in 2013:
The ruling Party in Laos has given the go-ahead to the government to officially negotiate the controversial US-Dollar 7.2 billion loan with China to finance the high-speed railway project linking the two countries, notes Radio Free Asia.
Growing Chinese influence in Cambodia: A railway from Preah Vihear, a steel plant and a seaport in Koh Kong
China and Laos: An Uneasy Embrace
by Prashanth Parameswaran for The Jamestown Foundation