Tuesday, November 23, 2010

China plans S-E Asia rail links

China will, in coming months, accelerate plans for high-speed rail links with Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos, as part of a wider effort to deepen engagement with its Southeast Asian neighbours.

In two months, work will begin on a 1,920-km high-speed rail line connecting south-western Yunnan province with Yangon in Myanmar, with trains running at over 200 km/h, the official China Daily reported on November 22.. The newspaper quoted Wang Mengshu, one of China's leading railway consultants, as saying studies were also under way to link Yunnan's capital Kunming with Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. In August, the Ministry of Railways also sent a team to Thailand to explore investing in a $ 25.6-billion, 240-km high-speed railway and rail network.

Beijing's increased infrastructure investment in Southeast Asia, analysts say, is part of a larger effort to expand economic and strategic influence in the region. Beijing hopes the investment will also ease anxieties among its ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) neighbours over the impact of China's rising economic influence. While China became the first country to ratify an ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (FTA), a fast-widening trade imbalance in China's favour, in part fuelled by the flooding of the ASEAN market with Chinese goods, has led to strains in commercial relationships with many ASEAN countries. The trade deficit grew to $21.6 billion last year. A number of countries have also voiced concern over the pattern of Chinese investments, which have generally targeted resources such as oil and minerals.