All Aboard China’s Railway Ambitions
By now, everyone (in Asia at least) has heard of the One Belt, One Road Initiative. Will Doig explores a lesser-known offshoot of Beijing’s gargantuan infrastructure ambitions: the idea of a Pan-asia Railway that would run from Kunming, in the Chinese southwest, to Singapore, linking Laos, Thailand and Malaysia along the way.
Like so much of China’s booming trade and investment linkages around the world, Beijing’s “railroad diplomacy” is forcing Southeast Asian countries to confront a dilemma — is it “safe” to invite Chinese money in?
Can they protect their “sovereignty and identity” from the repercussions of borrowing on Chinese largesse? These questions represent a profound historical irony, given how in the 19th century the Chinese themselves struggled, and ultimately failed, to manage the arrival of the West’s superiority in wealth and power. Now, “the heavy hand of China” is what Southeast Asian leaders and publics “both yearn for and fear.”
Doig writes vividly out of his reporting trips to places like Boten, the Chinese-built “mini-macau” on the Laos side of their border; Bandar Malaysia, a controversial terminus development outside Kuala Lumpur; and Forest City, islands built for Chinese expats just off Singapore. High-speed Empire is a short, fast read, but offers much food for thought.
‘The heavy hand of China’ is what Southeast Asian leaders and publics ‘both yearn for and fear.”
High-speed Empire: Chinese Expansion and the Future of Southeast Asia By Will Doig Columbia Global Reports, 2018, 107 pages, $14.99 (Paperback)