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Election Watch

葉怡辰‧鐵路連接中國與東盟

Sin Chew Daily
October 6, 2015

By YC Yap

1950年代聯合國亞太經社委員會提出“泛亞鐵路”,旨在建設從亞洲橫跨歐洲、非洲的鐵路系統,經冷戰時期的停頓於2009年再啟動。其南部通道“昆明―新加坡鐵路”在近年隨著“東盟一體化”、中國“一帶一路”倡議與“高鐵外交”再次獲得關注。

馬來西亞現為東盟主席國在2016年前須領導東盟實現一體化目標。“東盟互聯互通計劃”中優先項目之一是橫跨東南亞大陸到中國南部的“昆―新鐵路”,從中國昆明輻射至越南、柬埔寨、老撾、緬甸,在曼谷匯合經吉隆坡達新加坡。目前中―泰、中―老都已開展鐵路建設計劃,中國更積極競標新―馬高鐵項目。

“高鐵外交”參與“泛亞鐵路”修建既符合中國打通東南亞與南亞市場的策略也契合“東盟互聯互通計劃”。

中國鐵路技術與資本的入駐將加快實現“昆―新鐵路”修建或有利於東盟一體化進程。“昆―新鐵路”的成功聯通是否會進一步衝擊東盟主要貿易海港也未可知,但學界有說法認為以昆明為中心輻射的鐵路將造成內陸東南亞地區與沿海東南亞地區的分離。

東盟相對發達國家依靠港口貿易與海洋經濟,而內陸國家缺乏優質海港因此發展停滯。東盟10國發展水平本已參差不齊,對缺乏工業基礎設施的內陸地區,尤其老撾、緬甸及柬埔寨“昆―新鐵路”是發展契機。該國的天然與礦產資源已成為招商引資籌碼。鐵路連接東盟與中國除打通資源供應鏈也能提昇內陸地區經濟水平與產業結構,拉近東盟各國貧富懸殊。鐵路作為連接各國的基礎設施是區域貿易自由化、進出口關卡一體化得以落實的前提。

龐大的基礎設施建設項目對貧窮發展中國家有一定風險。老撾以礦產作抵押向中國借貸修建鐵路的45萬英鎊,相當於其一年GDP的約90%。老撾成為全球第四大債務國,中國也須承擔風險,高速發展或是把雙刃劍。

中國若能以陸路完成與東盟各國的貿易貨物運輸則有利南部內陸地區經濟開發,為進一步深入大湄公河流域經濟走廊以及緬甸―孟加拉―印度經濟走廊打開大門。2014年中國對東盟出口鐵路設備高達38.4億元,對中國而言參與東盟鐵路建設是輸出鐵路產能的商機。

中國“高鐵外交”可能是面對美國海權以及“回歸亞太”戰略所另辟的蹊徑。地緣政治理論“陸權論”提到“世界戰略形勢主要為海權與陸權的對抗……陸路運輸尤其`鐵路’最後定可抵消海權國便捷的海上運輸。”也許中國參與鐵路建設除提昇經濟軟實力更有提昇硬實力的戰略思維。無論是經濟或戰略層面,中國與東盟都具相互依存關係,而“昆―新加坡鐵路”的修建只是實踐“東盟一體化”與“一帶一路”倡議其中重要的一步。

Rail link connecting China and ASEAN

In the 1950s, the United Nation Asia Pacific Economic Council proposed the Pan-Asia Railroad Plan to build a railroad system which span across the Eurasia continent and Africa. But the plan came to an abrupt halt due to the Cold War. However, since 2009 the southern pathway "Kunming- Singapore Railroad" has regained attention due to China's Belt and Road Initiative, High-Speed Rail Diplomacy, as well as the calls for greater ASEAN regional integration.

Malaysia as the chair of ASEAN 2015 should be leading ASEAN to achieve regional integration before 2016. In the ASEAN Connectivity Master Plan, the “K-S Railroad” has been listed as one of the priority projects that span across the Indochina region, reaching southern parts of China. The railroad will begin from Kunming, China heading towards Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar. The different railroads will meet at Bangkok then go Kuala Lumpur before reaching Singapore. China has already begun bilateral talks individually with Thailand and Laos for the railroad to link their countries and has been very proactive in bidding for the Singapore-Malaysia High-Speed Rail Project. High-Speed Rail diplomacy in the Pan-Asia Railroad is a crucial element in China’s strategy of opening up markets in Southeast Asia and South Asia, while at the same time supporting the ASEAN Connectivity Master Plan.

China’s railroad technology and capital imports will accelerate the realisation of the K-S Railroad which may contribute to the ASEAN integration process. It is uncertain whether or not the K-S Railroad will affect the main business ports, though members of the academia believe that the railroad, which begins from Kunming, will cause a separation between the inland nations of the Southeast Asia region and coastal nations Southeast Asia region.

The relatively more developed countries in ASEAN rely on ports and the maritime economy, while landlocked-countries in the region lack of such infrastructure, putting them at a disadvantage in terms of shared development. Therefore, the development of ASEAN countries does not have the same level of parity. For the countries lacking of industrial infrastructure, particularly Laos, Myanmar, and Cambodia, the "K-S Railroad" is an opportunity for development. These countries are rich in natural and mineral resources, which could potentially give them leverage in attracting more FDI. The railroad connecting ASEAN and China will open up the resource supply-chain and at the same time upgrade the inland regional economy and industrial structure, closing the gap of wealth disparity among ASEAN countries. A railroad infrastructure connecting each country is a precondition for regional FTA and a unified customs policy.

Huge basic infrastructure projects are risky for poor developing countries. Laos has mortgaged its mineral resources and taken a loan worth £4.5 billion to build the railroad. The total debt is around 90% of its annual GDP, making Laos the fourth largest indebted country in the world while China will need to bear some risk as well. Fast paced developments can be a double-edged sword.

If China can connect to ASEAN via a land route and conduct trade & goods transhipment, it will benefit the economic development of the southern part of inland China. China can further open up the market along the Greater Mekong River Sub-region Economic Corridor and the Myanmar- Bangladesh- India Economic Corridor. In 2014, China’s railroad equipment exports have reached 3,840 million Renminbi. It is a huge business opportunity for China to export railroad equipment while participating in the construction of the ASEAN railroad.

China High-Speed Railway Diplomacy could be a strategy to counter US maritime supremacy and pivot to Asia. According to a geopolitical theory by Halford John Mackinder, railroads are an important factor for a strong nation to assert power through "land power" to dilute “maritime power” of their counterparts in the region. Perhaps China’s participation in railroad building is not only intending to enhance her soft power, but also a strategic measure to promote its hard power in the region. In short, China and ASEAN has become interdependent on each other, both in economic aspects and strategic aspects. The "Kunming-Singapore Rail Link" is just one part in the bigger picture of the realisation of ASEAN integration and the Belt and Road initiative.


View the original article on Sin Chew Daily.

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