China is succeeding where the British, French and Japanese imperialists are not. This year we will witness the full operation of the railway established between China and Laos, the first link of the ambitious Pan-Asian Rail Network plan between eight countries in Southeast Asia, designed for the transport of cargo and passengers.
The city of Kunming in Yunnan, a southwestern Chinese province, is a rail and road hub that connects the world’s second-largest economy with its southern neighbors. The Pan-Asian railway network connects Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia, and one of its branches is directed towards the port cities of Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.
Thus, Kunming, previously connected to Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and other Chinese metropolises, represents the gateway to global trade routes for the entire Southeast Asian region, in part representing the Belt and Road Initiative.
A wonderful megaproject
The segment of this transcontinental network between China and Laos was completed in December 2021 – on schedule, after five years of construction work – with a budget of 6 billion dollars. The other national segments of that network are already well under construction. To support the railway, a network of modern roads and highways is being established between the same hubs in a configuration like an open fan.
The Pan-Asian Railway Network is scheduled to be completed by 2030, with a total projected cost of $112 billion. Some 30,000 kilometers of rails will be laid, ready to receive high-speed trains in addition to the usual ones. Beijing will finance about 70 percent of all construction costs, while the capital for the remaining 30 percent will be covered by individual bilateral loans. The overall project was made with the support of the intergovernmental bloc, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
This represents a wonderful megaproject whose goal is the improvement and stimulation of regional economic development. The interior of these countries is thus opened up for agriculture, tourism and the transport of goods.
More than a hundred years ago, the British and French colonial masters tried to build a railway through Southeast Asia and failed. The combination of two world wars and the large financial burden of these two projects derailed both. During the war, the Japanese imperialists also tried to connect Thailand and Myanmar (Burma) with the famous railway that was built by prisoners of war (film Bridge on the River Kwai from 1957 – prim. trans.) – so they also failed. Now it is precisely there that China is laying infrastructure based on a completely different concept of partnerships and joint ventures aimed at local economic development. All signs so far indicate that this time China will succeed.
The achievement achieved by the China-Laos railway itself is truly impressive. It covers a distance of over 1,000 kilometers from Kunming to Vientiane, the capital of Laos. It required the construction of hundreds of bridges and tunnels through mountainous terrain with even two bridge crossings over the meanders of the Mekong River.
The president of Laos, Tonglun Sisulit, hailed the opening of this railway as “the beginning of a new era of development and prosperity” for this continental and relatively poor country with 7 million inhabitants. Largely financed by China, this rail link opened Laos to trade not only with its large northern neighbor, but also beyond. For China, the connection with Laos and other Southeast Asian countries provides additional access to land and sea trade routes that further lead to numerous global markets. It is also a stellar example of the “win-win” philosophy that governs the comprehensive vision of the Belt and Road Initiative, as expounded by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The Belt and Road Initiative was launched by President Si in 2013. So far, 146 countries have joined it in a global partnership explicitly based on multipolar joint development. The Pan-Asian railway network is just one embodiment of this vision.
One would think that such a vision of peaceful prosperity and peaceful partnership would be welcomed by everyone. The West and its American-led allies, however, do not think so. The American media and their allies’ media have long since started a persistent and fierce campaign of belittling and demonizing China itself and projects within its initiative.
Western media coup
Australian magazine Financial review (Financial Review) recently published an article with the dubious title: “Is the West able to dismantle China’s dream of a Pan-Asian railway?” It also says this: “Plans for this high-speed railway are raising concerns among Western countries about China’s growing influence in the region.”
Financial review does not explain to us what would be the legal basis for their “dismantling” of these projects. Nor do they explain to us the essence of their “concern” about growing Chinese influence. The tacit assumption here is based on pure Sinophobia on the one hand, and on the other on the appropriated right of the West to destroy Chinese investments and their infrastructure projects. The West obviously considers itself invited and authorized to unilaterally judge and act – even criminally – with full impunity and without any consultation, not even the will to even listen to the opinion of those countries that previously accepted a mutual partnership with China.
Radio Free Asia (RSA), owned by the US government, constantly states that China is trying to dominate its neighbors through the so-called “debt trap”. About this newly opened railway link, the RSA reports the following: “Giant China and tiny Laos connect with the launch of a high-speed train”, and the article further claims that Beijing’s main financier of the project is only a means by which it achieves its dominance through debt obligations .
Allegations about the “debt trap” are repeated insinuations by the Western media with the aim of undermining all Chinese initiatives that aim to develop bilateral relations. Along with that, there is necessarily an arrogant premise that the Western Powers know everything better than Laos and other Chinese partners. This is joined by the very dubious assumption that the USA and its allies are in some strange way the only possible benefactors for other countries, each of which is trying to achieve its own national well-being in its own unique way. The facts say the exact opposite of such assumptions. It is precisely the Western capitalist countries that throughout history have abused financial borrowing as a sure means of subjugating and controlling developing countries, with the intention of continuing to exploit all their natural resources.
Would it not be wise of the Western powers to perhaps first consult with China’s partner nations about how each sees its own specific perspective? In all domains of negatively colored reporting, Western media rarely or never even think of saying something about the voluntariness with which countries like Laos enter into a partnership with China. It turns out that their opinions don’t matter in the slightest. The US and all its Western allies simply assume that they are the only ones who know everything best.
Another persistently repeated and unsupported accusation by the Western media is that China’s colossal infrastructure plans entail an extremely high level of environmental damage and cause massive displacement of local farming communities. Somehow, Radio Free Asia managed to accurately calculate that “a total of 4,411 farming families” were rendered landless by the Laos-China railway. It was not said how such a precise number was arrived at. Although they themselves admitted that “most of them were paid adequate compensation”.
Quite typically, the Western media did not offer any convincing evidence of the harmful effects on the ecology of the environment. This author traveled on the China-Laos railway at the end of September and the only thing he saw then were vast green landscapes where only minimal damage was noticeable, except in the immediate vicinity of the recently laid tracks. The same can be said for the bridge under construction, which the modern highway will cross over the Mekong at the point where it represents the border between China and Laos. The dense green jungle that surrounds that bridge and the surrounding construction sites seems untouched.
The negative claims of the USA directed against the Chinese initiative sound bitter and ironic. when it is known that during the war in Vietnam America dropped over 260 million bombs on Laos in the period between 1964 and 1973 during a secret operation codenamed “Rolling Barrel” with the intention of defeating the North Vietnamese Army and Vietcong guerrillas . This criminal American aggression made Laos “the most bombed country in history” – dropping more tons of bombs than during the entire Second World War. During that period, over 50,000 residents of Laos were killed by American carpet-bombing, which to this day left a legacy of millions of cluster bombs scattered everywhere on the ground in the jungle-covered mountains. And indeed, one of the biggest tasks at the beginning of the construction of each section of this Chinese railway was the demining of the route along with the removal of all unexploded American ordnance scattered on that remote terrain.
Despite the West’s attempts to denigrate China and its initiative, both are progressing unstoppably. Southeast Asia clearly demonstrates that all roads and railways today lead to China, which is in a position to replace the USA as the world’s largest economy. The West is obviously not happy about this, and because it threatens both American hegemony and its ambition to remain the only power with unipolar world domination.
China’s global power is on the rise, and it is based on partnership and mutual development, so it points to the increasingly clear state of bankruptcy of the United States of America and its Western allies. Former capitalist powers are slowly derailing, and if not them, then at least the owners of their collapsed economies.
Finian Cunningham is a former editor and writer for leading news media organizations (including The Mirror, Irish Times and Independent). He wrote extensively about international events, and his articles were published in several world languages.
Translated by: Stevan Babić
Cover photo: Xinhua/Hu Chao