Past, present and future: The evolution of China’s incredible high-speed rail network

(CNN) — At the beginning of the 21st century China had no high-speed railways.Slow and often uncomfortable trains plodded across this vast country, with low average speeds making journeys such as Shanghai-Beijing a test of travel endurance.Today, it’s a completely different picture. The world’s most populous nation has — by some distance — the world’s largest network of high-speed railways.No fewer than 37,900 kilometers (about 23,500 miles) of lines crisscross the country, linking all of its major mega-city clusters, and all have been completed since 2008.Related contentChina debuts train prototype that can hit speeds of 620 kilometers per hourHalf of that total has been completed in the last five years alone, with a further 3,700 kilometers due to open in the coming months of 2021.The network is expected to double in length again, to 70,000 kilometers, by 2035.With maximum speeds of 350 kph (217 mph) on many lines, intercity travel has been transformed and the dominance of airlines has been broken on the busiest routes.By 2020, 75% of Chinese cities with a population of 500,000 or more had a high-speed rail ink.Spain, which has Europe’s most extensive high-speed network and occupies second place in the global league table, is a minnow in comparison with just over 2,000 miles of dedicated lines built for operation at over 250 kph.In contrast, the UK currently has just 107 kilometers while the United States has only one rail route that (just about) qualifies for high-speed status — Amtrak’s North East Corridor, where Acela trains currently top out at 240 kph on expensively rebuilt sections of existing line shared with commuter and freight trains.

A symbol of economic power

China’s ambition is to make high-speed rail the mode of choice for domestic long-distance travel, but these new railways have a much greater significance.Much like Japan’s Shinkansen in the 1960s, they are a symbol of the country’s economic power, rapid modernization, growing technological prowess and increasing prosperity.For China’s ruling Communist Party and its leader Xi Jinping, high-speed rail is also a powerful tool for social cohesion, political influence and the integration of disparate regions with distinct cultures into the mainstream.“The building of these new railways forms part of Xi Jinping’s grand plan of ‘integrating the vast national market,'” says Dr. Olivia Cheung, research fellow at the China Institute of the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). “It is also meant to be reflective of his ‘new development philosophy,’ of which ‘coordinated development’ is a key concept.”His scheme is grand in that it extends beyond just simply connecting existing towns, but existing towns with new mega-towns that are being constructed from scratch. A famous example in which Xi takes a lot of pride is the Xiong’an New Area in Hebei province, around 60 miles southwest of Beijing.”In that sense, it could be argued that China is repeating railway history; many early railways in North America, Europe and the colonies of the European empires were built with similar goals.The development of railway networks in Russia — most notably the Trans-Siberian Railway — Prussia, France, Italy and the British Empire, among others, were strongly influenced by political and military demands as well as economic development.However, what took decades in the 19th and early 20th centuries is being achieved in just a few years by China.

With 37,900 kilometers of lines, China has the world's largest network of high-speed railways.

With 37,900 kilometers of lines, China has the world’s largest network of high-speed railways.Wang He/Getty Images AsiaPac/Getty Images”The Chinese have created an entire high-speed rail network on an unprecedented scale — often faster and certainly more reliable than Chinese domestic flights,” says rail travel expert Mark Smith, better known as “The Man in Seat 61.”“It’s hard not to be impressed by the sheer size of some of the new stations, and by the efficiency with which the system moves vast numbers of people, all with a reserved seat and increasingly without the need for paper tickets, just a scan of an ID card or passport at the ticket gates.”Related contentHow Europe’s night trains came back from the deadChina initially relied on high-speed technology imported from Europe and Japan to establish its network. Global rail engineering giants such as Bombardier, Alstom and Mitsubishi were understandably keen to co-operate, given the potential size of the new market and China’s ambitious plans.However, over the last decade, it is domestic companies that have developed into world leaders in high-speed train technology and engineering, thanks to the astonishing expansion of their home network.

Overcoming high-speed growing pains

The sheer size of China and its tremendous variations in terrain, geology and climate have presented the country’s railway engineers with incredible challenges.From sometimes frozen Harbin in the far north to the near-tropical humidity of the Pearl River Delta megalopolis, to the 1,776-km Lanzhou-Urumqi line traversing the Gobi Desert, China’s engineers have quickly developed extensive expertise in driving railways over, under and through whatever terrain lies in their path.That rapid growth has not been without its problems though; while centralized state funding, planning and approval allows China to avoid the endless legal wrangles that have bedeviled projects in Europe and the United States for decades, the flip side is that new lines pay little heed to existing communities along their route.China’s high-speed growing pains also contributed to the tragic Wenzhou collision in July 2011, when two trains collided on a viaduct and derailed, sending four coaches to the floor below, killing 40 passengers and injuring almost 200 others.Public confidence in high-speed rail was severely shaken by the accident, resulting in a blanket speed reduction and the suspension of construction work on new lines pending an official investigation. However, no major incidents have been reported in the decade since and passenger numbers have risen exponentially as the network has expanded.For anyone used to the scope of traditional railway projects, the statistics are often mind boggling.Construction of the 815-kilometer, $13.5 billion Zhengzhou East-Wangzhou line was completed in less than five years.When the new 180-kilometer Xuzhou-Lianyungang line opened in February, it completed a continuous 3,490-kilometer high-speed rail connection between Jiangsu province and Urumqi, in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. Heading north from the capital, trains now complete the 1,700-kilometer Beijing-Harbin journey in just five hours — requiring an average speed of 340 kph.By late-2020, China National Railways was operating more than 9,600 high-speed trains per day, including the world’s only high-speed overnight sleeper services on selected longer-distance routes.On some routes, more than 80% of the track is elevated, soaring above densely packed cities and valuable agricultural land on endless concrete viaducts. More than 100 tunnels — each over 10 kilometers — have also been bored, along with spectacular long-span bridges thrown over natural obstacles such as the Yangtze River.

A high-tech demonstration in efficiency

Not satisfied with pushing the boundaries of speed, endurance and civil engineering, Chinese companies are among the first in the world to introduce new technology such as autonomous (driverless) train operation and advanced signaling and control technology.The driverless “bullet trains” connecting Beijing and Zhangjiakou in northern Hebei province are capable of hitting speeds up to 350 kph, making them the world’s fastest autonomous trains.The new route, opened in December 2019 as part of preparations for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, has reduced travel time for the 174-kilometer journey from three hours to less than 60 minutes. The fastest trains complete the trip in just 45 minutes.

No cold platforms here. A passenger waits to board their train at a high-speed railway station in Shanghai.

No cold platforms here. A passenger waits to board their train at a high-speed railway station in Shanghai.Lintao Zhang/Getty Images AsiaPac/Getty ImagesBuilt in just four years, the line has 10 stations serving two of the major Winter Games venues, plus another at Badaling Changcheng providing faster access for tourists to the Great Wall of China. The latter is the world’s deepest high-speed railway station, situated 102 meters (335 feet) underground.Passenger saloons on the autonomous trains have expanded storage areas for winter sports equipment, seats with 5G touchscreen control panels, intelligent lighting, thousands of safety sensors and removable seats for passengers in wheelchairs. Facial-recognition technology and robots are used in stations to assist travelers with navigation, luggage and check-in.Enormous new stations serving the major cities on the high-speed network are more reminiscent of airport terminals, with acres of spotless polished marble and glass, enormous information screens and lounges where passengers are held until their train is called. No loitering on cold and windy platforms here!Related contentChina debuts bullet train that can operate in extremely cold temperatures“While the UK argues about building High Speed 2, China has created a nationwide high-speed network,” says rail expert Smith.”China’s high-speed lines are ruthlessly efficient — once booked, a swipe of your ID card or passport at the ticket gates is all you need to travel.”Fares, he says, start from as little as $13.The new Olympic line gives some clues as to the future direction of rail travel in China — and beyond — but technological boundaries are also being pushed in other areas.In late-2020, China’s state-owned rail engineering colossus CRRC previewed the prototype of a very high-speed electric train for international routes capable of operating at speeds as high as 400 kph.Not only is it claimed to operate in temperatures ranging between -50C and +50C, it features newly developed gauge changing wheelsets that will allow it to run direct into Russia, Mongolia and Kazakhstan, which use a wider track gauge than China’s standard 1,435 mm. More ambitiously, the ability to change gauges could also create the possibility for direct trains to India and Pakistan via Myanmar and Bangladesh.

What comes next?

Expansion into neighboring countries is already underway with the $5.3 billion Laos-China Railway due to open by the end of 2021. Although not a high-speed railway, the new 257-mile line is a significant extension of Chinese railway influence, providing improved links from southern China to the Laotian capital Vientiane.Construction of a railway to Bangkok in Thailand and eventually south to Singapore is also in progress.CRRC is already the world’s largest supplier of railway vehicles and technology but as its home market matures, it has its eyes firmly on global exports worth billions of dollars every year.As China seeks to expand its influence across Asia and into Europe and Africa via the ambitious “Belt and Road Initiative,” rail is playing a fundamental part in creating the new “Silk Road” it desires.

In January, China revealed a prototype for a new high-speed Maglev train that is capable of reaching speeds of 620 kilometers (385 miles) per hour.

In January, China revealed a prototype for a new high-speed Maglev train that is capable of reaching speeds of 620 kilometers (385 miles) per hour.STR/AFP/Getty Images”China’s high-speed rail industry has become one of the nation’s economic pillar industries and the high-speed network has brought greater mobility and prosperity to the public,” said president of Bombardier Transportation China, Jianwei Zhang, in a 2020 statement.Proposed new railways crossing the Himalayas to India and Pakistan, or reaching into Russia and the former Soviet states of the Central Asian republics will not only provide improved trade routes for Chinese exports, but will deliver enormous contracts (and challenges) for the country’s rail and civil engineering conglomerates.Backed by investment funds and loans, these projects also strengthen China’s position as the regional superpower, further pulling developing nations into its gravitational field by increasing their economic dependence on Beijing.

Source: CNN “Past, present and future: The evolution of China’s incredible high-speed rail network”

Note: This is CNN’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean whether I agree or disagree with the article’s views.

Zero Sum v. Win-Win Cooperation Mindsets

Will China’s BRI in Central and Eastern Europe Break Russia-China Alliance?

Since 2012, China has had annual 16+1 summit with 16 central and eastern European countries including 11 EU Member States and 5 Balkan countries Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Macedonia. It has expanded to 17+1 when Greece joined later since 2019.

The summits were held by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang from 2012 to 2019. No summit was held in 2020 due to Covid-19 pendamic. The 2021 summit was a video one held by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Before the first summit, China had already been financing the expansion of the port of Piraeus in Greece and building roads and railways in Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina and North Macedonia.

The latter four countries are all eastern European ones formerly controlled by the Soviet Union. Those countries are what Russia wants to recover as its sphere of influence in order to recover the glory of the Soviet Union or at least the Russia before the Soviet Union. That is Russia’s dream. As part of its efforts to realize that dream, it took military actions to annex Crimea and separate two states from Ukraine.

Obviously China intends to extend its BRI into central and eastern Europe through the 17+1 summits, but eastern Europe is what Russia wants to recover as its sphere of influence. Therefore, former US President Donald Trump could exploit China’s BRI extension into eastern Europe to sow discord between Russia and China. That may be the commencement of a third party affair to break the marriage of convenience between Russia and China.

Possibility of Russia-China Win-Win Cooperation in Europe

Now, it is but a logical assumption that Russia may be upset by China’s extension of BRI into eastern Europe. However, as a matter of fact, EU is much more upset by China’s extension as it has been taking and wants to take eastern Europe into it. EU has already taken and been taking quite a few eastern European countries into it. Russia regards that as a threat to encircle it in Europe. In that perspective, extending BRI into central and eastern Europe may attract the countries there away from EU and to some extent break EU’s encirclement of Russia.

Economically, Russia is much weaker than EU so that it cannot compete with EU in winning over the eastern European countries that were formerly parts or satellite states of the Soviet Union. Ukraine has long been a country that EU and Russia compete hard to win over. It was formerly an important member of the Soviet Union and relies on Russian energy supply. EU and Russia had both made great efforts to influence Ukraine’s presidential election. Sometimes EU won and had a pro-EU president elected, but sometimes Russia won.

It so happened that in 2010 a pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych was elected. He decided to suspend the Ukraine-European Union Association Agreement and seek closer economic ties with Russia. With EU support, a street revolution broke out and overthrew the lawfully elected president. Russia sent troops to annex Ukraine’s Crimea and supported the military separation of two Ukrainian states from Ukraine. However, the other parts of Ukraine are pro-EU and want to join not only EU but also NATO, which Russia regards as great threat to its security. China’s BRI in Eastern Europe will make it even more difficult for Russia to recover Eastern Europe as its sphere of influence.

The US regards China as its only rival for world hegemony. As China is rising while the US is declining, normally, the US has to form alliance with some other countries to counter Russia-China alliance or instead make efforts to break Russia-China alliance. The US regards China’s extension of BRI into eastern and central Europe as its opportunity to break Russia-China alliance.

US President Donald Trump has been fully aware of the trouble to the US caused by Russia-China alliance. He has tried to improve relations with Russia and thus drive a wedge between Russia and China but has encountered strong opposition at home. However, as most Americans have fallen into Thucydides trap, they all support US opposition to China’s BRI and regard BRI as China’s trick to gain geopolitical influence. They believe that China’s BRI in Europe will reduce Russia’s geopolitical influence in Europe and hope that Russia will join the US in opposing China’s BRI.

Russia’s Putin is very clever. He sees the dual aspects of China’s extension of BRI to Europe. On the one hand China will gain geopolitical influence in Eastern Europe and may thus reduce Russia’s geopolitical influence there, but on the other hand it will also reduce EU’s geopolitical influence there.

China is after all Russia’s ally. Russia should regard China’s BRI in eastern Europe as China’s help to draw eastern European countries away from EU. That will certainly reduce EU’s threat to Russia.

US great efforts to hinder BRI are based on zero-sum mindset while China’s success in BRI is based on win-win cooperation that benefits both China and the participating countries. Russia has already participated BRI in providing railway connections between China and Europe. It has been making preparations for provision of shipping connection between China and Europe through the Arctic. Now, with win-win mindset, Russia will also conduct win-win cooperation for BRI in eastern Europe.

Opposing China’s BRI in eastern Europe is a zero sum mindset, but applying Russia’s remnant influence to conduct win-win cooperation with China for the success of BRI will perhaps draw some eastern European countries into Russia and China’s joint camp against the West. Moreover, the connections built by and economic growth resulting from BRI will first of all benefit Russia due to Russia’s closeness to the area.

Therefore with win-win cooperation mindset, Russia will conduct win-win cooperation with China in extending BRI to eastern Europe. It will play an important role there as it is the major energy supplier there. The US will not be able to break Russia-China alliance due to China’s extension of BRI into eastern Europe.

US Inability to Replace China as Russia’s Ally

Moreover, in terms of economic interests, the United States cannot replace China as Russia’s resources importer and consumer goods provider. On the contrary, the US is Russia’s competitor in world energy market as it is becoming a major energy exporter too due to progress of technology in its energy exploitation. The US is a major exporter of agricultural products. Russia too has vast land resources with the potential to produce and export agricultural products to China. When China retaliates US tariff hikes to make itself unable to import soybean from the US, Russia offers its vast land for China to produce soybean and promises to produce soybean itself to satisfy China’s needs.

Previously, when Russian retaliated European sanctions by banning imports of European processed food, China provided food processing technology to help Russia produce import substitutes and thus enabled Russia’s food self-sufficiency. Russia has thus greatly reduced its foreign exchange expenditures in importing processed food. China helped Russia resist West sanctions. Now, it is Russia’s turn to help China resist US trade war attacks. And Russia will be benefited in grabbing US market share in China by so doing.

In addition, the US is Russia’s major competitor in world weapon market. China may become Russia’s major competitor too as it is vigorously developing advanced weapons. However, with win-win cooperation mindset, the alliance enables China and Russia to cooperate in developing advanced weapons due to the mutual trust they have built for a long time. For example, they now have joint ventures in developing wide-body airliners (the technology of which may be used in strategic bomber and large military transport aircraft) and heavy helicopters to combine their technology expertise in competing with the West.

There is, moreover, the mutually beneficial cooperation between China and Russia due to their close geographical locations that the US simply cannot replace China. China is now using Russia’s railway for its trade with Europe and Middle East. It will greatly enhance Russian railway’s efficiency and profitability. When the Arctic has melted, Russia will provide China with shipping shortcut to Europe through the Arctic Ocean. Russian railway, ports and other facilities will make big money in providing connections between China and Europe through the Arctic. The US simply cannot provide any replacement for the benefits Russia has got and will get from its alliance with China.

With zero-sum mindset neighborhood may give rise to fight for land and resources but with win-win cooperation mindset, it may provide connections and trade opportunities to supply each other’s needs. China and Russia are now mature neighbors that understand the benefit of win-win cooperation facilitated by geographical closeness. Due to different geographical locations, the US simply cannot disrupt Russia-China “marriage” with third-party “affair”.

The win-win cooperation will push Russia and China even closer to each other. Such closer ties between them is very difficult for Trump to break.

The Emergence of Asian Union

Most BRI projects are long-term ones. When they have been completed a decade later, BRI will possibly unite the vast area of Asia including Central Asia, Southeast Asia, North Asia, South Asia except India and potentially East Asia including South Korea and Japan through ASEAN+3 into an Asian Union similar to EU.

That union will link with EU through eastern and central Europe, leaving the United States isolated in North America.

Article by Chan Kai Yee

Possibility of Trump Leveraging Russia against China

However, we have not studied another possibility: Could US president Trump leverage Russia against China?

In fact, before Obama began his pivot to Asia to contain China, the US has been quite successful in containing Russia with Chinese assistance. China supported the UN Security Council resolutions initiated by the West to contain Russia in the Middle East. It even suffered great losses in supporting the US in conducting regime change unfavorable to Russia in Libya.

However, when China continued to rise in spite of all the doomsday predictions of Western China analysts, the United States began to fear that its world hegemony might be replaced by China. That might become a reality if China’s growth rate, though had slowed down, remain much higher than the US. As mentioned above former US Obama administration began its pivot to Asia to contain China. Militarily, it planed to increase its military deployment from 50% to 60% in Asia. Economically, Obama had made great efforts to set up the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). What upset China most was US commencement to interfere with China’s disputes with its neighbors over the South China Sea. China regards its rights and interests in the South China Sea as its core interests so that it responded strongly.

As described in my previous posts, China was not strong enough to resist US containment alone. It has to unite with Russia to resist the US. China greatly pleased Russia by joining Russia’s veto of UN resolution initiated by the US aimed at bringing about regime change in pro-Russia Syria.

China’s great efforts to ally with Russia were but its diplomacy to subdue the US. As the West led by the US had been containing Russia with great political and military pressure, Russia welcomed China’s efforts to ally with it. Due to the historical enmity and conflicts of interests between China and Russia described in my previous posts, their alliance could be regarded as a marriage of convenience.

People’s marriage is mostly broken due to the affair with a third party. An affair between the US and Russia would have been a wise strategy to subdue China with diplomacy.

US Strategy Illiteracy

I have mentioned times and again US strategy illiteracy. Henry Kissinger has the wisdom that the US has to have better relations with China and the Soviet Union (Russia now) than the relations between China and the Soviet Union. He succeeded in establishing relations with China to scare the Soviet Union and make the latter seek détente with the US.

On the contrary, as described above former US president Obama pushed China and Russia into each others’ arms by his efforts to contain both countries. As a result, when President Donald Trump succeeded Obama, through Russian President Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s joint efforts, Russia and China have overcome their historical enmity and conflicts of interests and become quite close allies.

However, not all American people are strategy illiterates. Trump seems to know the need to break Russia-China alliance by improving US relations with Russia. Perhaps, he knows the importance of leveraging Russia against rising China. In his election campaign, Trump often praised Russian President Putin while attacking China. It gave people the impression that Trump would improve US relations with Russia when he had won the election and become US president. But due to previous Cold War there has been inveterate hostility between the US and Russia; therefore, that idea is quite unpopular among lots of American people. For example Trump’s former defense secretary James Mattis regards Russia as the biggest threat.

Trump is certainly not so stupid as to regard Russia as a friend instead of an enemy. He only wanted to drive a wedge between Russia and China to isolate China. That will be the reverse of Henry Kissinger’s move in improving US relations with China to counter the Soviet Union. Now Trump wants to improve US relations with Russia to counter China.

It is perhaps a wise move to contain China, but is it possible for Trump to do so, given US domestic disgust of Russian President Putin? Can Trump overcome fierce opposition from US politicians and media, especially the opposition from his own Republican Party?

Given the traditional enmity between the two giant neighbors Russia and China, it would have been possible for the US to leverage Russia against China if Obama had not committed the mistake of containing them both simultaneously and thus turned them into allies instead of enemies. When Trump tried to improve US-Russian relations, Russia-China alliance seems to have been well-established.

However, there are the historical enmity and conflicts of interests between Russia and China Trump may exploit. In addition China’s Belt and Road initiative has given rise to new conflicts of interests between the two for Trump to exploit.

Article by Chan Kai Yee

Russia-China Conflicts of Interests due to BRI

Silk Road Economic Belt in Central Asia

As mentioned in my previous posts Central Asian countries were previously parts of the Soviet Union under Russia dominance. Now, Russia wants to establish the Eurasia Union to keep them as its satellite states or at least in Russia’s sphere of influence. China has convinced Russia that in building infrastructures in Central Asia it pursues only economic benefit with no geopolitical intention. However China’s Belt and Road initiative is regarded by various analysts as a political scheme for world leadership. If so, the Belt and Road initiative in Central Asia may very likely result in replacing Russia’ influence with China’s. It is, therefore, very difficult for China to convince Russia that the projects being parts of China’s Belt and Road initiative are but economic with no political effect. In fact, it is impossible to separate economics from politics.

Due to the conflict of interests, little progress has been made in finding a way to accommodate Belt and Road with Russia’s Eurasia Union though China and Russia has had an agreement on that.

US Quad Pushes Russia Further into China’s Embrace

Fortunately, the US comes to their assistance. Trump has replaced Obama’s pivot to Asia with Indo-Pacific Quad of the US, India, Japan and Australia with the obvious intention to contain China. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made that very clear in his speech at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies on October 18, 2017.

India though a key part of quad has long been Russia’s friend and major market of weapon export. To win over India and make it the major player in controlling the Indian Ocean to threaten China’s trade lifelines through the ocean, the US has promised India that it will help India develop aircraft carriers with better US technology and supply India with US carrier-based fighter jets.

However, before US restoration of Quad, Russia is India’s major weapon provider and has been helping India develop its aircraft carriers. It has developed and made 45 Mig-29K worth $2.2 billion specially for India’s new aircraft carrier. Russia will suffer serious losses if India refuse to buy the Mig-29Ks. Obviously, India’s participation in US Quad will cause Russia to lose its major weapon market to the US. As a result, the US has pushed Russia even closer to China and thus facilitated removal of the potential obstacles to Belt and Road in Central Asia.

Moreover, China’s major BRI project in India’s enemy Pakistan upsets India while BRI is not accepted by Vietnam too due to China’s disputes with Vietnam over the South China Sea. China is not able to spread its BRI in those two countries of Russian influence. After all Central Asia is not an important area in Asia and China’s BRI there has not caused much reduction in Russia’s influence there, but the rail and Arctic links between China and Europe will bring Russia much greater benefits. Therefore, BRI in Asia is not a problem for Russia.

BRI in Europe May Affect Russia’s Interests there

China, however, is extending BRI to central and eastern Europe, where there are previous members and satellite states of former Soviet Union. As mentioned in my previous posts, Russia has long been a European country so that those former members and satellites states are much more important to Russia. It is especially so as EU has been trying hard to win over them as EU members or areas of influence.

Russia has been striving to win back those countries. Its conflict with the West over Ukraine is a typical example. China’s BRI there may further complicate the situation, which the US may exploit to break the alliance between Russia and China.

Article by Chan Kai Yee

Russia-China Alliance, Marriage of Convenience

Russia-China Rider-horse Alliance Failed

In the 1950s, there was a treaty alliance between Russia’s predecessor and China. The treaty had a term of 30 years, but the alliance broke and the two nations became enemies within a decade.

Perhaps it was an alliance described by Stephen Blank, a senior fellow for Russia at the Americ

an Foreign Policy Council. Blank points out, “every alliance has a horse and a rider.” In the 1950s, the Soviet Union regarded itself as the rider as it was much richer and stronger than China. However, China did not want to remain Soviet Union’s horse when it had grown stronger. It wanted to be the rider too. It began to strive to grab from the Soviet Union the leadership of their socialist camp. The fight for leadership broke the alliance in spite of a long-term treaty of alliance between them.

Marriage of Convenience

Some analysts regard the current Russia-China alliance as a “marriage of convenience”, a marriage based on mutual needs instead of affection. The needs are obvious as both countries are under US threat. However, in a marriage the two parties are equal. China has a much larger economy and its military is growing stronger than Russia, but China treats Russia as an equal partner. China is wise to pay attention to refraining from regarding itself as rider and Russia as horse. Its president Xi Jinping even wants Russian President Putin to be leader of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) they have jointly set up though China is much richer and stronger than Russia. Putin rejects China’s proposal and wants China to be the leader. As a result SCO is led by Russia and China jointly. Such mutual respect enables a marriage of convenience to remain strong and difficult to break by external pressure.

In addition, a marriage of convenience, though not as sound as a marriage based on mutual affection, may have some firm basis for the marriage, which usually is mutual interests. If the couple are both good and their interests are compatible and even facilitate each other as they grow closer due to the alliance, mutual affection may develop gradually. That is the case of Russia-China alliance. Long-term enmity may be turned into friendship due to mutual respect and trust built up through the alliance..

The US Has No Allies to Counter Russia-China alliance

While China has won over another world military power Russia to form an alliance that will assist each other to resist the US militarily, the US only has the allies it has obligations to protect but no allies to assist it in attacking China or Russia.

US former President Obama tried to form an Asian iron triangle of US, Japan and South Korea but failed as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had upset South Korea with his visit to Yasukuni Shrine. In fact, South Korea could not help the US in US war with China but Japan will be able to if it has further developed its military.

Obama’s pivot to Asia is mainly an alliance with Japan to contain China. Japan may become an ally comparable to China’s ally Russia. Japan is willing to take an active part to join force with the US due to its history of invading China and inflicting Chinese people with great misery. Together Obama and Abe had formed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to contain China economically. Obama’s successor Trump, however, withdrew from TPP in spite of Abe’s strong opposition. Trump, in addition, plans to start a trade war with Japan. As a result, Japan has been active in improving relations with China. It has made great efforts to establish with China Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and ASEAN + 3 Free Trade Area.

Trump is pushing Japan to China’s arms and will thus lose its only possible ally. Its European allies rely on its military protect and are unwilling to increase their military spending for their own defense, let alone help the US fighting China.

The US has no one to complain as its alliance with others is rider-horse alliance. It certainly cannot hope that its horses will protect it.

Can the US Be a Third Party that Disrupts the “Marriage” with an “Affair”?

The United States regards China as its only rival for world hegemony. As China is rising while the US is declining, normally, the US has to form alliance with some other countries to counter Russia-China alliance or instead make efforts to break Russia-China alliance. US President Donald Trump had tried to improve relations with Russia and thus drive a wedge between Russia and China but has encountered strong opposition at home.

Will Trump and his successor succeed in leverage Russia against China?

They could have exploited the conflicts of interests between Russia and China over China’s BRI.

Article by Chan Kai Yee

Sino-Russian Rail Bridge to Russian Silk Road Belt

In my last post “Russia-China Alliance Remains if US Threat Removed” , I said, “Chinese leaders are wise to launch their Belt and Road initiative (BRI) to seek win-win cooperation with other countries for mutual benefits. Russian leaders are wise to enjoy the benefit of BRI as Russia’s underdeveloped east and north lie precisely in Silk Road economic belt.”

In order to develop the areas, there has to be win-win cooperation between China and Russia in building infrastructures for connection. CGNT says in its report “First Sino-Russian rail bridge to boost connectivity and trade” on April 15, 2019 that the two nations have built their first cross-border railway bridge with annual throughput capacity of 21 million metric tons. The report can be viewed at

Through the bridge Russia will export iron ore, coal, timber, etc. to China while China will send consumer goods to Russia. Moreover, the report says, “(M)ore Sino-Russian cross-border infrastructure programs are expected to be completed soon, which will make northern China a corridor towards central Asia and Europe.”

According to the report, the Russian Jewish Autonomous Region nearby is trying to attract more Chinese enterprises to their advanced development zones. The goods produced in and exported from the region to the US will certainly not be affected by the tariff hikes imposed on China in 2018 of US trade war with China.

Moreover, Russia has lots of virgin land in Siberia to be used for production of soybean and other crops to replace China’s imports from the US.

Russia will thus help China in resisting US trade war attacks and benefit itself.

Previously, I said that US containment of both Russia and China has made possible the Russia-China alliance that had been impossible due to the historical enmity and conflict of interests between Russia and China. In my last post, I said as the alliance of necessity between the two to resist US containment has turned out to be an alliance of mutual benefit, the alliance will not break if US threat has been removed. Now, US trade war has made the alliance even more mutually beneficial as due to the trade war, Russia can use its vast land to produce agricultural goods to replace China’s imports from the US. China’s demand for such imports will keep on growing as Chinese people grow increasingly rich along with China’s economic growth.

Russia will get the opportunity of development thanks to US trade war while the US will suffer. Who can the US blame? The one who starts a war must suffer the damages and pay the costs of the war. That is true for all wars. Trade war is no exception.

Article by Chan Kai Yee


The Belt and Road Initiative

Approximately 26.5 million out of 221.8 million Pakistani citizens live below the national poverty line, determined based on one’s ability to afford to consume 2,350 calories a day. Indigence is particularly widespread in rural areas, which houses almost two-thirds of the national population. Due to persistent fiscal deficits, Pakistan has failed to implement appropriate anti-poverty and welfare measures. Currently, Pakistan lacks an umbrella social protection institution, while state loan schemes exclude many rural inhabitants, whose economic activity is largely informal and temporary. However, the Belt and Road Initiative may provide support to Pakistan’s poor.

The Situation

Farming and animal husbandry remains indispensable to the country’s agrarian regions. However, while almost 40% of Pakistan’s labor force relies on other sources of income, rural development may not occur without industrialization and infrastructural advancements, which is essential to connect the locals with the neighboring urban areas. Luckily, the Belt and Road Initiative, launched in 2013 by the Chinese and the Pakistani authorities, has endeavored to facilitate these positive changes. The BRI or the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is the collective name for a plethora of Sino-Pakistani projects that primarily concentrate on infrastructure and energy, with an estimated budget of more than $62 billion.

Although the BRI is not the only major investment scheme operating in Pakistan, with the Asian Development Bank similarly funding road construction and having spent circa $14 billion on developing the country’s energy sector and rural communities, the former’s scale is unprecedented. Whether one could say the same about its impact on the Pakistani poor is equally important to establish, and now that the Belt and Road Initiative’s initial projects have come to fruition, it is possible to discern that.

Energy Sector Benefits

Within the first seven years of its existence, the Belt and Road Initiative resulted in the completion of 24 energy projects, which are worth $25.5 billion altogether. These include the erection of non-renewable power plants, namely coal stations in the Pakistani towns of Port Qasim and Sahiwal, as well as of solar and wind facilities. Thanks to this, where Pakistan’s annual GDP growth has been traditionally undermined by at least 2% owing to energy shortages, and where only half of the rural population had permanent access to electricity in 2018, the projects successfully replenished its national grid with 3,240 MW.

This was an 11% increase in its overall power capacity, and it helped stabilize the electricity supply to the indefeasible benefit of rural communities due to its diversification of the national energy resources. Furthermore, rural communities are expected to benefit from the construction of natural gas pipelines from Iran to the Pakistani provinces of Baluchistan and Sindh, whose rural poverty rates remain the highest in the country.

Infrastructure Benefits

Besides helping Pakistan attain energy self-sufficiency, the Belt and Road Initiative has invested $12 billion in constructing new roads and modernizing the local railway system. For example, Pakistan is currently building a 680-mile-long motorway linking its two major economic powerhouses, Karachi and Lahore. Moreover, the equally ambitious Karakorum Highway is connecting those cities to other Pakistani towns.

With faster, higher-quality roads accelerating cargo movement across Pakistan, the government determines farmers will face fewer hardships when transporting their produce to urban markets and city-based purveyors of important amenities will be able to improve their presence in rural areas. Additionally, the former will increase earnings, whereas the latter might encourage competition and bring down prices for basic goods, thereby making them more accessible to the rural public.

Other Economic Benefits

In 2019, China gave Pakistan $1 billion to cover the costs of 27 projects in education, agriculture and poverty alleviation. Most of these projects are concentrated in Southern Punjab and Baluchistan, which scored few points on the Human Development Index and correspondingly have many impoverished villages.

Analyzing the Belt and Road Initiative

Although Sino-Pakistani cooperation under the BRI has created more than 70,000 jobs in Pakistan and the World Bank believes that it could lift as many as 1.1 million Pakistanis out of poverty, it constitutes no silver bullet to the problem of domestic rural poverty.

On many occasions, the dire state of the country’s economy stifled project implementation, which suffered yet another balance of payments crisis in 2018, as well as by government bureaucracy. Thus, the construction of a power plant in Gwadar, a Pakistani port located in the province of Baluchistan and leased to Chinese companies, experienced a three-year delay, awaiting local government authorization.

Some have also questioned the Belt and Road Initiative’s socioeconomic inclusivity. According to the Sino-Pakistani agreement concerning the lease of Gwadar, the Pakistani economy will only receive 9% of the port’s revenues. An even smaller proportion of these funds will go to poverty alleviation programs. Moreover, the nation’s skilled wages have not registered significant growth, which suggests that many professionals still receive meager pay and struggle to cover their daily expenses.

The Belt and Road Initiative in Pakistan is hardly a finished enterprise. Although the majority of the so-called “early harvest” projects have reached fruition, many more are undergoing planning and construction. For this reason, we cannot conclude our evaluation of the BRI’s contribution to fighting rural poverty in Pakistan. Yet, since impoverished populations have benefited from the energy sector and job creation initiatives, this project may indeed prove helpful in alleviating poverty in Pakistan.

– Dan Mikhaylov

Photo: Flickr


Note: This is’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.

US, Taiwan’s Alternatives to BRI Help, Not Counter China’s Efforts

According to SCMP’s report “US and Taiwan promote alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative”, US and Taiwan will raise funds for infrastructure projects in developing countries from private business entities and investors in order to counter China’s Belt and Route initiative (BRI).

That is a move due to complete misunderstanding of China’s BRI. China’s BRI aims at win-win cooperation with poor country in order to help them develop their economy and lift their people out of poverty. True, there will be geopolitical consequence to make China popular in the countries BRI has invested, but that will but be a byproduct. The gains China pursues are economic for China as a country. When the countries BRI has invested have grown rich, the market for China’s cheap goods will grow substantially.

Therefore BRI is not exclusive. All other countries are welcome to make investments where China invests. When the countries and regions grow rich, China as the world’s factory will be most benefited while the US and Taiwan that mainly produce products of higher technology have to waite till those countries and regions have grown rich enough to afford their expensive products.

Therefore, US and Taiwan’s investment will not counter but instead facilitate China’s BRI.

Moreover, US and Taiwan’s funds will be raised from entities and investors that pursue adequate return to their investment. BRI mainly invest in poor countries with unstable political situation. The infrastructure projects there are mostly quite risky so that private investoers dare not invest. China’s BRI is not focused on the return of a specific investment but on the economic growth all its investmetns in the area may bring about as a whole.

Moreove, even if China has lost what it has invested, it may be satisfied that the money has been spent to make China popular instead of purchase of US government bonds to fund development of US military to contain China.

Are the private investors from who the US and Taiwan have raised fund willing to suffer such losses?

There has been too much misunderstanding of China resulting in quite a few stupid moves. I believe it’s time for me to write a series of books to help people understand China.

Comment by Chan Kai Yee on SCMP’s report, full text of which can be found at

China’s Peaceful Projects Facing India Terrorist Attacks, Military Threat

In its November-15 article “India-Pakistan woes should not affect Chinese projects”, Global Times tries to explain that China’s BRI, especially its China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects in Kashimir, an area of dispute between India and Pakistan, are purely economic ones aiming at promoting the economic development in the areas concerned. Therefore, it says, “Whether in the Kashmir region or in other regions, it should be an international norm for both sides not to attack local economic projects and civilians. Under any circumstances, both countries have the responsibility to ensure the safety of Chinese personnel and projects.”

The article is published in response to Pakistan news conference on well-proved India’s actions to undermine CPEC projects in Pakistan.

True, CPEC aims at win-win cooperation to benefit both Pakistan and China economically without geopolitical intention, but it will make Pakistan rich and strong and thus turn geopolitical balance in favor of Pakistan. No wonder India will try its best to undermine it.

In addition to organizing and funding terrorist attacks at CPEC projects, India has taken military actions to create tensions along India-Chinese border and conducted Quad military drills to threaten China.

The US regards China as its enemy and has launched trade and tech wars against it. It seems that by joining US Quad, India also regards China as its enemy.

Comment by Chan Kai Yee on Global Times’ article, full text of which can be viewed at

CPEC Provides China with Secure Trade Lifelines to Its West

According to’s report “CPEC set for expansion: China-Pakistan plans additonal road networks” on October 18, 2020, China and Pakistan will include three major road projects in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

According to the report, the most important one among the three projects is “a framework agreement for the construction of a western route road project under the mega corridor. The 210km-long route lies on the western route of CPEC and has been declared as the highest priority scheme by both countries.”

In addition, the report says “The Pakistani government has also approved a $7.2bn upgrade to a railway which will connect Gwadar Port to Kashgar, China.” That railway will provide China’s northwest a secure shortcut for exports of its products to the Middle East, Europe and Africa and import from there, especially vital oil and gas from the Middle East.

That will be China’s 21st maritime Silk Road for connection to the areas to its west.

Comment by Chan Kai Yee on’s report, full text of which can be viewed at