News April 15, 2020

High-Speed Rail Holds Promise and Problems for China, Explains David M. Lampton

In a new audio interview, Lampton discusses some of the challenges, uncertainties, and decisions that loom ahead of China's Belt and Road Initiative.
BEIJING, CHINA - Workers sit near a CRH (China Railway High-speed) "bullet train" at the Beijing South Railway Station under reconstruction.
BEIJING, CHINA - Workers sit near a CRH (China Railway High-speed) "bullet train" at the Beijing South Railway Station under reconstruction. China Photos / Stringer, Getty Images

This time last year, business in China was booming. In April 2019, Bejing welcomed numerous world leaders and businesspeople at the second annual Belt and Road Forum, a glittering production of statesmanship where partners and potential investors were toasted at gala-style events and received with pomp. China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) aims to develop large-scale infrastructure projects, both domestically and internationally, using Chinese firms and funding. The goals set for and promises made by the overall BRI endeavor are broad-reaching in scale and breath-taking in scope, but its realities are incredibly complicated, argues David M. Lampton, the Oksenberg-Rohlen Fellow at APARC.

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In his forthcoming book chapter, “All (High-Speed Rail) Roads Lead to China," Lampton examines the people, organizations, and institutions within China who support and oppose BRI, focusing on the high-speed rail component of the massive endeavor in Southeast Asia. His chapter is part of the upcoming volume, Fateful Decisions: Choices That Will Shape China’s Future, edited by Shorenstein APARC Fellow Thomas Fingar and China Program Director Jean Oi. We sat down with Lampton to talk about some of the tough choices China and partner nations will have to make regarding their continuing support of BRI, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout.

“No matter where you look," says Lampton, "there are a set of economic, political, military, security risks . . . Big construction infrastructure projects almost all run at least twice as long as initially anticipated and cost at least twice as much on balance . . . So, I think the first thing China's going to see externally is some resentment against the degree of intrusion that something this massive represents."

Listen to the full conversation with Lampton here, or on our SoundCloud channel. A transcript of the conversation is available for download below.

TRANSCRIPT: "All (High-Speed Rail) Roads Lead to China"

This is the third installment in a series leading up to the publication of Fateful Decisions: Choices that will Shape China's Future (Stanford University Press, available May 2020), edited by Thomas Fingar and Jean Oi. To read the first two parts of this series follow the links below.