by Jiayun Feng
“I know talking big doesn’t cost a penny, but this is way too unrealistic for me to believe.”
“Those who are skeptical about the idea don’t have enough confidence in our country’s scientific capability. How can scientists make achievements if they don’t dream big?”
These are two comments representing two opposite opinions (in Chinese) on a plan announced by China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp (CASIC), the main contractor for the Chinese space program, to start research and design of a futuristic type of hyper-speed train with maximum speeds of 4,000 kilometers (2,485 miles) per hour, four times faster than modern commercial jets can fly. The plan was announced (in Chinese) on August 30 at a summit in Wuhan.
The proposed transport system is very much like the futuristic Hyperloop concept suggested by Elon Musk. Combining CASIC’s experience in supersonic flight technology with rail transportation, the CASIC hyperloop is designed to be a maglev line on which pods will travel on partly elevated tubes depressurized to drastically reduce friction.
According to CASIC, in the first phase, regional trains with a maximum speed of 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) per hour will be developed. The second step is to extend the network to connect major cities and build up trains operating at 2,000 kilometers (1242 miles) per hour. In the final stage, the speed will be boosted up to 4,000 kilometers per hour, making the train an essential part of the Belt and Road initiative and “another name card of China after aerospace technology, high-speed train, and nuclear power.”
Source: SupChina “China is designing new hyper-speed train capable of 4,000 kilometers per hour”
Michael Martina and Sanjeev Miglani August 30, 2017 / 2:06 PM
BEIJING/NEW DELHI (Reuters) – China on Wednesday sought to cast its strained ties with India in a positive light ahead of a likely meeting next week between President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi following their most serious military confrontation in decades.
The countries agreed this week to end a more than two-month-old stand-off on their disputed Himalayan border, just in time for the start on Sunday of a summit of the BRICS grouping of nations, which also includes Brazil, Russia and South Africa.
It was normal for the two neighbors to have differences, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told a news briefing.
“What’s important is that we put these problems in the appropriate place, and appropriately handle and control them in the spirit of mutual respect and based on the consensus of both countries’ leaders,” he said.
“There is huge potential for cooperation between China and India,” Wang added, without giving details.
Xi and Modi are expected to hold talks on the summit sidelines in the southeastern city of Xiamen, officials in New Delhi said.
That has raised hopes they will try and repair a relationship that has deteriorated as the two countries find their interests diverge – and often clash – while competing for influence across Asia.
Neither country should claim victory after the stand-off, said former Indian foreign secretary Nirupama Rao, an expert on relations with China.
“The forthcoming summit can provide an opportunity to begin that restoration process when the leaders of the two countries meet,” Rao said. “Diplomatic and not military manoeuvres must be the name of the game in this relationship.”
Hundreds of troops were deployed on the Doklam plateau, near the borders of India, its ally Bhutan, and China after New Delhi objected to China building a road through the mountainous area.
The quiet diplomacy that ultimately ended in de-escalation was based on a principle of stopping “differences becoming disputes” that Modi and Xi had agreed in Astana in June, an Indian official with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.
Still, ties remain strained over the disputed frontier and India is deeply suspicious of China’s growing military activities in and around the Indian Ocean.
For its part, Modi’s government has upset China with its public embrace of Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama, whom the Chinese regard as a dangerous separatist, and growing military ties with the United States and Japan.
China has said its forces will continue to patrol in Doklam, which is claimed by Bhutan. Wang said he hoped India had learned a lesson from the incident.
Chinese road construction had stopped and equipment removed, said a second government official in New Delhi aware of the situation.
But it was not clear whether China had given an assurance not to resume construction in a territory New Delhi says is too close for comfort for the security of its northeast.
India and China have deep historical and cultural links, but relations have seesawed since India lost a brief border war in 1962.
Chinese troops have made about 300 transgressions this year into territory claimed by India, the second official in New Delhi said, up from about 225 last year.
Media on both sides kept up a nationalistic drumbeat during the recent crisis.
Ties between the two appeared to be heading to a “breaking point”, with neither backing down from its own nationalist agenda, said one Beijing-based Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“From where India sits, it looks like China is trying to encircle them,” the diplomat added.
Still, the peaceful end to the Doklam stand-off was a positive sign, Mao Siwei, China’s former consul general in India’s eastern city of Kolkata, told Reuters.
“This is top leaders from both countries withstanding extreme domestic nationalist sentiment to come to a sensible decision,” said Mao, who is now retired.
Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard and Christian Shepherd; Writing by Tommy Wilkes and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Clarence Fernandez.
Source: Reuters “Ahead of Indian leader’s visit, China sees huge potential for cooperation”
Note: This is Reuters’ report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.
In my post “China Stupid if It Started a Border War with India” on August 12, I said that China and Pakistan’s “Iron Buddy” relationship and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor regarded by China as a key project in China’s Silk Road economic belt initiative makes India fear that it is encircled by China and Pakistan, its long-term enemy.
To counter the encirclement, India wants to establish close ties with the US and Japan and hopefully the combined navies of the three nations may encircle China and Pakistan in the Indian Ocean.
I said in my post:
A modern war is fought for achieving a political goal which we regard as the strategic goal of a war. A country is a loser in the war if it wins the war without attaining its strategic goal but it is the winner if it attains its strategic goal even though it loses the war.
From that we see Indian Prime Minister Modi’s shrewdness. He knows well that India army is no match to Chinese army but he provoked China to fight and win a war with India so that he may attain the goal of developing close alliance with the US and Japan to counter-encircle China and Pakistan in the Indian Ocean.
China’s strategic goal must be resolution of its border dispute with India to turn India into its friend instead of enemy. China has been making great efforts in doing so. What can China attain even if it wins a border war with India now? It will turn India into its dead enemy if the war is a large-scale one like the countless border wars between France and Germany that gave rise to the two world wars.
Therefore, I said that China is stupid if it start a border war with India as China will get the opposite of its strategic goal while enable India to attain its strategic goal.
True enough, according to Reuters’ report “India and China agree to end border standoff”, the two nations have found solution to their border standoff and will both retreat.
India sent its troops to provoke China and China responded by sending troops there. Now India agrees to withdraw its troops so that China can withdraw hers.
Chinese leaders are wise enough to avoid military conflict with India in spite of India’s provocation.
The end of the standoff is obvious India’s failure in provoking China and China’s success in maintaining peaceful relations with India. That is very clearly shown in Reuters’ report, full text of which is reblogged below:
India and China agree to end border standoff
Sanjeev Miglani and Ben Blanchard August 28, 2017 / 2:56 PM / 11 hours ago
NEW DELHI/BEIJING (Reuters) – India and China have agreed to an “expeditious disengagement” of troops in a disputed border area where their soldiers have been locked in a stand-off for more than two months, India’s foreign ministry said on Monday.
The decision comes ahead of a summit of the BRICS nations – a grouping that also includes Brazil, Russia and South Africa – in China beginning on Sunday, which Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to attend.
Indian and Chinese troops have been confronting each other at the Doklam plateau near the borders of India, its ally Bhutan, and China, in the most serious and prolonged standoff in decades along their disputed Himalayan border.
The Indian ministry said the two sides had agreed to defuse the crisis following diplomatic talks.
“In recent weeks, India and China have maintained diplomatic communication in respect of the incident at Doklam,” the ministry said in a statement.
“On this basis, expeditious disengagement of border personnel at the face-off site at Doklam has been agreed to and is on-going,” it said in a statement.
It did not offer more details of the terms of disengagement from the area which had raised fears of a wider conflict between the Asian giants who fought a brief border war in 1962.
China said Indian troops had withdrawn from the remote area in the eastern Himalayas. Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Chinese troops would continue to patrol the Doklam region.
“China will continue to exercise sovereignty rights to protect territorial sovereignty in accordance with the rules of the historical boundary,” she said.
The Chinese defense ministry said troops would remain on a state of alert.
“We remind the Indian side to learn the lesson from this incident, earnestly respect the historical boundary and the basic principles of international law, meet China half way and jointly protect the peace and tranquillity of the border region,” spokesman Wu Qian said in a statement.
“The world is not peaceful, and peace needs to be safeguarded. The Chinese military has the confidence and the ability to protect the country’s sovereignty, security and development interests,” Wu added.
The trouble started in June when India sent troops to stop China building a road in the Doklam area, which is remote, uninhabited territory claimed by both China and Bhutan.
India said it sent its troops because Chinese military activity there was a threat to the security of its own northeast region.
But China has said India had no role to play in the area and insisted it withdraw unilaterally or face the prospect of an escalation. Chinese state media had warned India of a fate worse than its crushing defeat in the war in 1962.
Indian political commentator Shekhar Gupta said there was too much at stake for the two countries to fight over a small piece of territory.
“Hopefully, Doklam is a new chapter in India-China relations. Too much at stake for both big powers to let legacy real-estate issues linger,” he said in a Twitter post.
India and China have been unable to settle their 3,500-km (2,175-mile) frontier and large parts of territory are claimed by both sides.
Lin Minwang, an India expert and the deputy director of the Center for South Asia Studies at China’s Fudan University, said the detente would ensure a smooth BRICS meeting.
“Both sides should be happy. Modi is also happy. They can conduct a meeting smoothly and naturally. If there was still a stand-off, how could they meet?”
August 23, 2017
China is on the verge of fielding an operational anti-satellite weapon. Meanwhile, both great powers are working on developing directed energy weapons to counter American satellites. “Ten years after China intercepted one of its own satellites in low-Earth orbit, its ground-launched ASAT missiles might be nearing operational service within the PLA [People’s Liberation Army],” Coats stated. “Both countries are advancing directed energy weapons technologies for the purpose of fielding ASAT systems that could blind or damage sensitive space-based optical sensors. Russia is developing an airborne laser weapon for use against US satellites.”
Russia and China are actively pursuing new weapons and capabilities to counter America’s dominance of space according a U.S. Intelligence Community assessment. Indeed, both nations are considering the development of weapons that could attack U.S. satellites and other space-based assets in orbit.
“We assess that Russia and China perceive a need to offset any U.S. military advantage derived from military, civil, or commercial space systems and are increasingly considering attacks against satellite systems as part of their future warfare doctrine,” reads congressional testimony from Daniel Coats, director of National Intelligence on May 11. “Both will continue to pursue a full range of anti- satellite (ASAT) weapons as a means to reduce U.S. military effectiveness.”
The two great powers—which seek to offset America’s advantages in that domain—are continuing the development of such capabilities despite public statements that would curtain an arms race in space. “Russia and China remain committed to developing capabilities to challenge perceived adversaries in space, especially the United States, while publicly and diplomatically promoting nonweaponization of space and ‘no first placement’ of weapons in space,” Coats stated. “Such commitment continues despite ongoing US and allied diplomatic efforts to dissuade expansion of threats to the peaceful use of space, including international engagements through the U.N.”
Most attacks against U.S. space assets are likely to be non-kinetic, focusing on electronic attacks and cyber-warfare. “Development will very likely focus on jamming capabilities against dedicated military satellite communications (SATCOM), Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imaging satellites, and enhanced capabilities against Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS), such as the US Global Positioning System (GPS),” Coats’ testimony reads. “Blending of EW [electronic warfare] and cyber-attack capabilities will likely expand in pursuit of sophisticated means to deny and degrade information networks. Chinese researchers have discussed methods to enhance robust jamming capabilities with new systems to jam commonly used frequencies. Russia intends to modernize its EW forces and field a new generation of EW weapons by 2020.”
However, when electronic warfare and cyber-weapons fail to achieve their desired objectives, the Russian and Chinese are prepared to use kinetic force to physically destroy American space assets. “Some new Russian and Chinese ASAT weapons, including destructive systems, will probably complete development in the next several years,” Coats stated. “Russian military strategists likely view counterspace weapons as an integral part of broader aerospace defense rearmament and are very likely pursuing a diverse suite of capabilities to affect satellites in all orbital regimes.”
But it’s not just the Russian military; policymakers in Moscow are also promoting anti-satellite weapons in the view of the U.S. intelligence community. “Russian lawmakers have promoted military pursuit of ASAT missiles to strike low-Earth orbiting satellites, and Russia is testing such a weapon for eventual deployment,” Coats stated. “A Russian official also acknowledged development of an aircraft-launched missile capable of destroying satellites in low-Earth orbit.”
On the other side of the world, China is on the verge of fielding an operational anti-satellite weapon. Meanwhile, both great powers are working on developing directed energy weapons to counter American satellites. “Ten years after China intercepted one of its own satellites in low-Earth orbit, its ground-launched ASAT missiles might be nearing operational service within the PLA [People’s Liberation Army],” Coats stated. “Both countries are advancing directed energy weapons technologies for the purpose of fielding ASAT systems that could blind or damage sensitive space-based optical sensors. Russia is developing an airborne laser weapon for use against US satellites.”
Additionally, both nations are developing satellites that can either tamper with other space assets or if necessary collide with and destroy an enemy orbital vehicle. “Russia and China continue to conduct sophisticated on-orbit satellite activities, such as rendezvous and proximity operations, at least some of which are likely intended to test dual-use technologies with inherent counterspace functionality,” Coats stated. “For instance, space robotic technology research for satellite servicing and debris-removal might be used to damage satellites. Such missions will pose a particular challenge in the future, complicating the U.S. ability to characterize the space environment, decipher intent of space activity, and provide advance threat warning.”
Thus, as time goes on, the Pentagon will have to invest more to ensure America retains its superiority in space.
Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar.
Source: National Interest “The Secret Way China and Russia Would Crush America in a War”
Note: This is National Interest’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.
In SCMP’s article “Willingness to explore resource sharing points to cooperative future for China, the Philippines”, the writer Richard Heydarian, a Manila-based academic and author, says “peaceful dialogue over resource sharing in disputed areas could in itself contribute to improving diplomatic relations among competing neighbours.”
However, he points out the seemingly insurmountable obstacles including Philippine constitution and popular nationalism so that former Philippine President Gloria Arroyo failed in her attempt for such sharing.
Mr. Heydarian fails to see that situation is different now. Before Philippines’ failure to get its ally’s help in countering China in the Scarborough standoff and imposing Hague arbitration award, the Philippines still has the illusion that with the help from China’s rival and its long-term ally the US, it can be benefited from the resources in the disputed waters fully alone.
Now, without Chinese consent, it cannot even exploit the fish resources in the disputed waters claimed by it. It simply cannot exploit the energy resources without cooperation with China, but China has the technology, equipment, funds and military strength to exploit the resources alone without any sharing with other claimants. What if China extracts all the resources alone? No one can help the Philippines to prevent that. Neither the US, ASEAN or the permanent court of arbitration at the Hague can.
Therefore, the Philippines has no alternative but share the resources with China or it will get nothing.
Its current president Duterte is wise to see that, but his people perhaps do not realize that and would rather give China the opportunity to enjoy the resources entirely alone.
Comment by Chan Kai Yee on SCMP’s article, full text of which can be found at http://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/2108202/willingness-explore-resource-sharing-points-cooperative.
The country shows off new infantry-fighting vehicles.
By Jeffrey Lin and P.W. Singer August 22, 2017
Last week, China’s dominant fighting vehicle manufacturer, China North Industries Corporation (Norinco), displayed a bevy of export armored vehicles as part of its Armor Day celebrations. These festivities, now in their second year, laud the power of Chinese military and offer an occasion to show off to senior foreign military officers, who were likely there as potential buyers.
The day began with a parade of armored fighting vehicles, led by the VT-4 main battle tank, which has already found a repeat buyer in the Royal Thai Army. Spotted: usual suspects like the VT-4 main battle tank, VT-5 light tank, and VN-12 IFV, as well as several new Chinese systems and fighting vehicles.
The star attraction was the GL-5 hard-kill active protection system (APS), which destroyed a guided missile attacking a tank in a live fire exercise. The GL-5 system consists of four radars and fixed projectile launchers, which are attached to a tank turret for 360 degree coverage (each launcher covers a quadrant).
The radars pick up incoming enemy rockets, missiles, and shells, causing the computer to select a munition and fire it. Each munition is capable of destroying incoming munitions at a range of 33-39 feet. The use of fixed-launcher, radar-guided munitions in an APS mirrors the hard-kill portion of the Afghanit APS on the Russian T-14 Armata tank. As the GL-5 is an export-only version, the Chinese military is likely to field a more advanced version to protect its tanks, which could be comparable to the U.S. Quick Kill and Israeli Iron Fist and Trophy systems in terms of coverage, range, and fire volume.
The new VN-17 infantry-fighting vehicle (IFV) uses a heavily modified version of the 33-ton VT-5 light tank’s chassis. It has an unmanned (read: remotely controlled) turret with two large, multi-lens electro-optical and infrared sensors (one each for the gunner and commander). Those sensors come in handy when the system needs to use its 35mm cannon, 7.62mm machine gun, or medium-range HJ-12 anti-tank missiles. The VN-17 is also well protected, with reactive armor on the lower front hull, and significant side-skirt armor alongside its tracks. All this, plus its capacity to carry seven infantry, makes it likely in the 30-35 ton weight class.
It shares some similarity with the People’s Liberation Army’s mysterious new infantry-fighting vehicle, which will reportedly have an unmanned turret, augmented displays for crew helmets, and a hybrid-electrical engine for fuel efficiency and stealth. In terms of armament, protection, and sensors, both the VN-17 and the unnamed PLA IFV compare quite favorably to the U.S. Army’s M2A3 Bradley IFV. But unlike the 35-year-old Bradley, China’s brand new battle taxis have plenty of margin to grow into future upgrades like more advanced armor, better weapons, APS, sensors, and deploying unmanned partners.
The ZTZ-59 tank, a 60-year workhorse copied off the Soviet T-54 tank, got a new lease of life in the form of a heavy IFV (or HIFV). The HIFV mod weighs about 40 tons and can carry up to seven passengers. So what new tricks has the old dog learned? Modifications include moving the engine to the front of the vehicle chassis, increasing tank armor on all sides, and installing a rear door for dismounting infantry.
Its 105mm cannon and the entire turret have been replaced with a much smaller turret consisting of a 30mm autocannon, a searchlight, and electro-optical sensors. The HIFV’s bulky, all-aspect armor would make it well suited for either urban combat or high-end warfare in open environments. Likely customers could be existing T-54/T-55 buyers in the Middle East, particularly those looking for armored vehicles to fight insurgents in urban environments. Its likely that Norinco could develop HIFV versions of heavier, modern tanks like the VT-2 and VT-4 to offer more high-end mechanized infantry solutions for future customers, including the People’s Liberation Army.
These competitive NORINCO offerings add credence to the U.S. Defense Department’s 2016 report on the Chinese military, which stated that Chinese military industry was offering “world-class” ground systems. Notably, the increase in quality of Chinese weapons also means a corresponding increase in price; the RTA purchased 10 VT-4 main battle tanks for $58 million in 2017.
While Norinco’s Armor Day showcased impressive fighting vehicles aimed at the export market, the PLA will likely take delivery of even more advanced versions in the years to come.
Source: Popular Science “For sale: China’s brand new, souped-up tanks”
Note: This is Popular Science’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.
Financial Times says in its recent article “Drone swarm vs conventional arms: China’s military debate” that there is debate in China’s military whether China shall focus on expensive conventional arms such as aircraft carriers, stealth warplanes, etc. or pursue a new generation of weapons with revolutionary strategy that uses large number of cheap arms coordinated with advanced software to outdo the above-mentioned very expensive conventional arms.
The article specifically discusses the new system of drone swarm. It says that there is debate in Chinese military whether to stick to the old strategy of developing conventional expensive weapons or switch to new systems of much cheaper drone swarm.
China has a boom in developing, producing and exporting drones in which China’s private enterprises play a very important role as drones are both military and civilian.
The article says Chinese President Xi Jinping created a Military-Civil Integration Development Commission with himself as head. This commission enables China’s private enterprises to play an increasingly important role in weapon development as they develop technology for both civilian and military application.
That shows that Xi, as the leader with centralized power approves the new strategy; therefore the debate is but the writer of the article’s invention.
The article says that swarm technology can reverse the trend of the deployment of fewer but more advanced and expensive weapon platforms. It regards drone swarm as the next generation of weapon that may outdo sophisticated technology systems by the sheer numbers of autonomous drones.
The article quotes Elsa Kania, an independent researcher on Chinese military affair, as saying, “The People’s Liberation Army anticipates that swarm intelligence and swarming tactics could serve as an asymmetric means to target high-value US weapons platforms.”
True enough on June 11 China Electronics Technology Group, a state-owned high-tech company, showcases its world’s largest swarm of 119 drones controlled by software of artificial intelligence, breaking US-held record (see my post “Swarms at War: Chinese Advances in Swarm Intelligence” on July 12).
As China is now the world’s factory able to produce large quantity of low-cost goods, the article believes that the tactical trend of using lots of robots to outdo sophisticated weapons clearly favors China.
It says, “Another trend favouring China is that next-generation defence technologies are more and more indistinguishable from the civilian technologies mass produced in cities like Shenzhen.”
“A third trend favouring China is that software has become more important than hardware.”
It seems that the article believes that China will surpass the US militarily if robot warfare prevails in the future.
Comment by Chan Kai Yee on Financial Times’ article, full text of which can be found at https://www.ft.com/content/302fc14a-66ef-11e7-8526-7b38dcaef614.
Christopher F Foss – IHS Jane’s International Defence Review 24 August 2017
China has developed a new armour system called Flexible Grid Armour (FGA), which is now being marketed for export by China North Industries Corporation (NORINCO).
The FGA is designed to provide tracked and wheeled armoured fighting vehicles (AFVs) with increased protection against anti-tank threats, such as the high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) warhead fired by the widely deployed RPG-7 rocket propelled grenade (RPG) launcher.
The system comprises a tubular frame, which is attached a short distance from the hull of the platform and contains strands of taut wire that are secured by square links.
The taut wire is designed to neutralise the piezo-electric fuze of incoming HEAT warheads so that it does not detonate against the hull.
The FGA would not be fitted during routine training as it increases the overall width of the platform and can potentially be damaged when operating in rough terrain.
In addition to the FGA, NORINCO has also expanded its range of explosive reactive armour (ERA) and passive armour packages for AFVs.
Source: Jane’s “China develops new RPG-defeating net for AFVs”
Note: This is Jane’s’ article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.
By David Brewster 14 August 2017 07:22 AEDT
Recent reports that Thailand, with Chinese money, is planning to build a new canal between the Pacific and Indian Oceans have set off a new wave of alarm bells over China’s plans to dominate the region. If – and it is a big if – the project goes ahead, it will create some big winners and losers.
The project would involve carving a US$28 billion, 135km canal through the Thai isthmus between the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea, cutting some 1200km (or two to three days) off journeys between the Indian and Pacific Ocean. It would be the Asian equivalent of the Suez Canal or the Panama Canal, and would be substantially more difficult to build.
The idea has been around for a long time. A really long time. The British and French looked at it in the nineteenth century. They decided it was too hard, but the British still extracted a promise from the King of Siam that no-one else would be allowed to do it. In the 1930s, there was a scare about Japanese plans to build it, which would have allowed the Japanese fleet to bypass the British base at Singapore. Here’s a classic 1940 British newsreel that explains everything you need to know on the subject (including a real Samurai).
Video of Kra! A Pathetone Special (1940) (The video can be viewed at https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/kra-canal-double-bypass)
New plans to build the canal have been kicking around since the turn of this century, but no-one has been able to make the project economic. Maybe this time it will go ahead with Chinese Belt and Road funding.
Some security analysts worry that the Canal would solve China’s famous ‘Malacca Dilemma’ by allowing its oil tankers to avoid the narrow, crowded and vulnerable Malacca Strait and even give the Chinese navy a new route into the Indian Ocean. The Chinese navy is certainly going to get a lot more active in the Indian Ocean in coming years, as was well demonstrated last month when China opened its first overseas naval base in Djibouti.
But the likely impact of the Kra Canal is less about battleships and more about shipping containers.
The Canal is like building a new highway that will bypass a town, leaving the local service stations and cafés stranded while creating opportunities to build new service centres elsewhere. Kra would permit ships transiting between the Indian and Pacific Oceans to bypass Singapore, potentially damaging Singapore’s hold on shipping services and helping to open up that space for China and its friends.
Since Singapore was established as a way station for the Indo-Pacific opium trade it has relied on geography for its prosperity, helping it become one of the world’s biggest transhipment hubs and provider of shipping and all its related services, from banks to law firms. That is now under threat from Chinese-funded port projects being developed right across Southern Asia.
The biggest winner from the Canal could be Sri Lanka, which lies astride the busy sea lanes of the northern Indian Ocean, making it an obvious choice for a new shipping hub. Much of China’s investment on the island over the last few years has been aimed at building up that island’s shipping infrastructure. This has included building a new port at Hambantota, which China has recently taken control of. A much bigger project is the controversial Colombo Port City, which involves building a whole new business district to service the port, largely under Chinese control.
Colombo is already by far the biggest transhipment hub for India, while Singapore’s volume of Indian transhipment is falling. If Chinese-owned ships are able to take a short cut through Kra, then Sri Lanka’s competitive advantage only improves. India is responding with its own greenfield port projects, but there are significant doubts that it has the ability to bring all the necessary elements together.
Sri Lanka has long aspired to become an Asian trading hub like Singapore and successive governments have seen Singapore’s model for development as having special significance. Sri Lanka now hopes to break through the many problems left over from its 30-year civil war with the help of China’s Maritime Silk Road initiative. It may also be in a position to play off other big investors, such as Japan.
Sri Lanka is doing well in the transhipment market, assisted by the woeful state of most Indian ports, which can’t handle large capacity container ships. But a far bigger prize than the competitive and low-margin transhipment trade would involve ‘opening the boxes’ and moving up the value chain just as Singapore did, and potentially turning Colombo into a regional hub for logistics, maintenance, engineering and financial and legal services – sitting just off India’s coast. That is a lot of what the Colombo Port City project is about.
Singapore, always keenly aware of its own vulnerabilities, is already concerned about the potential for Sri Lanka to become a competitor, although it is also aware how many systemic problems Sri Lanka must overcome before it can compete in providing sophisticated, high value services.
For the moment, the Kra Canal may be just a dream. That’s what they once said about Panama before the US, then a rising regional power, decided that the canal was necessary to give it access to its second ocean.
Source: The Interpreter of Lowy Institute “The Kra Canal: Double bypass”
Note: This is Lowy Institute’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.