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High Speed Rail and Diplomacy: The Story of China

March 07, 2011
Author: Eve-Marie Morgo

Over the space of last month, China, one of the fastest developing nations in the world has funded a $13billion project which completes the development of over 1000km of new track. This seems like an impressive feat that would be expected from a superpower such as China, with its need to adapt to the global marketplace. However, China isn’t funding this project domestically; it’s funding a project entirely based within another country, neighboring Kazakhstan.


The project links major cities Astana and Almaty in Kazakhstan, and includes technology improvements and new trains that can travel at 350KM/h lowering journey times by more than 50%. The line is predicted to serve more than 5 million passengers on an annual basis.

There are a number of clear incentives behind this action on China's behalf. China currently is increasing trade with Kazakhstan at a phenomenal rate. Diplomatic trade between the two nations is progressing year on year at a staggering 45%, and with a solid infrastructure in Kazakhstan, the potential for this will be furthered; there is a great amount of reward to reap for China. China's President Hu discusses the main advantages he perceives from the investment; “the act will further political ties, push forward pragmatic co-operation and strengthen security co-operation in addition to allowing both countries to support each other on national interests”.

This project is reflective of what is being repeated throughout the world right now in many different countries; India, Japan, Italy, USA, UK, Germany and Russia to name a few. Many governments are investing phenomenal amounts of their budgets into rail, because of the long term economic benefits high speed rail can derive.

High speed rail offers many advantages; it is often more reliable than air. In Kazakhstan winter snowfall is so severe that airports have to be shut down for safety reasons, often for days at a time. Any international goods or even passengers are prevented from being transported through these means. On the other hand, rail can run smoothly within very harsh conditions, tolerating far more snowfall than air. The trading of important goods or the movement of business people is both efficient and simple in rail. Another advantage is that in the long term, the upkeep and running costs of rail is a lot lower than air.

With deregulation and high speed trains that can reach up to 350km/hr, rail is now becoming progressively more and more a viable long distance transport choice for many different segments of traveller.

Will any other governments follow suit and invest in Rail for diplomatic purposes, This is yet to be seen.

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