(Joyce) #1

Asia’s two biggest

economies are vying to

develop what would be the

world’s fi rst long-distance

intercity lines

By River Davis


apan and China are racing to build
a new type of ultra-fast, levitating
train, seeking to demonstrate their
mastery over a technology with big
export potential.
Magnetic levitation, or maglev,
trains use powerful magnets to glide
along charged tracks at super-fast
speeds made possible by the lack of
friction. A handful of short distance and
experimental maglev trains are already
in operation, but Asia’s two biggest
economies are vying to develop what
would be the world’s fi rst long-distance
intercity lines.
On one side is Central Japan Railway
Co.’s 9 trillion yen ($86 billion) maglev
that’s expected to connect Tokyo and
Osaka by 2037. On the other is China’s
100 billion yuan ($15 billion) on-again,
off -again project that will run between
Shanghai and the eastern port city of
Ningbo. After several false starts, it’s
now forecast to be completed by around

  1. Japan’s is more expensive largely
    because of the amount of excavation
    that will be required to tunnel through
    the mountainous countryside.
    If Japan and China are able to
    unveil their long-distance projects
    successfully by their due dates, it should
    give them a leg up when they look to

export the next-generation technology,
rail experts say. At stake is a share of the
estimated more than $2 trillion global
market for rail infrastructure projects.
“Maglev technology has huge export
potential, and China and Japan’s
domestic projects are like shop windows
into how the technology could be
successfully implemented abroad,” said
Christopher Hood, a professor at Cardiff
University who’s studied and written a
book about Japan’s shinkansen.
Japan, the creator of the world’s fi rst
bullet train, or shinkansen, has long
been a top supplier to global fast-rail
projects. Former prime minister Shinzo
Abe targeted infrastructure exports
including high-speed rail technologies
as a key plank of economic growth.
But over the past decade, Chinese
competitors, often willing to supply
parts and know-how for cheaper, have
been catching up. In 2015, Japanese
suppliers lost out to Chinese rivals in a
bid to build Indonesia’s fi rst high-speed
railway from capital Jakarta to Bandung
in West Java. Japan was eventually asked
to rejoin the project after it began to face
signifi cant delays.
Japan is a “strong rival” in developing
regular bullet and high-speed maglev
trains, according to an article that
appeared in July in state-backed China
Daily and that quoted a professor who
specialises in railways. This “tough
reality” has pushed China to make quick
breakthroughs in developing maglev
trains “to ensure the country has
adequate market share in both future
domestic and global markets,” the
report said.
The maglev line that will connect
fi nancial hub Shanghai and Ningbo, via
Hangzhou, is part of a plan by China’s

Zhejiang provincial government to
inject 3 trillion yuan into building out
the province’s rail lines.
“There’s the sense that in the
technological world, Japan is falling
further and further behind China, so if
it can realise this new technology fi rst, it
would be an issue of immense national
pride,” Hood said. He points to China’s
recent development of a high-speed
train prototype that can run on diff erent
track gauges, something Japan has been
trying to master with varying degrees of
success for several years.
In 2016, the Abe government
approved a 3 trillion yen loan to help
JR Central fund the so-called Chuo
Shinkansen maglev line, resulting in the
project’s end-date being moved up to
2037 from 2045. Still, the development
faces a number of challenges that
may cause it to be delayed, including
opposition from a prefectural
government concerned about the line’s
environmental impact.
“We are making every eff ort to get
the Chuo Shinkansen up and running as
soon as possible,” said Yuri Akahoshi,
a spokeswoman for JR Central, adding
that the line is an “indispensable piece
of infrastructure for the future of
JR Central runs tests on a
43-kilometre line in Yamanashi
prefecture southwest of Tokyo, where
its trains have routinely clocked
operating speeds of over 500 kilometres
per hour.
One of the countries that JR Central is
looking to export its maglev technology
to is the US, where it’s working with
partners to lay the groundwork for
a maglev line that would connect
Washington DC and New York, costing

an estimated $10 billion for the fi rst DC
to Baltimore leg alone. If constructed,
the train would cut travel time between
the hubs to one hour from the current
three, according to JR Central, making it
even faster than fl ying.
The Japanese government has
pledged several billion dollars in
fi nancial backing for the US east coast
project and JR Central has said it
doesn’t plan to charge licensing fees
for the technology. Authorities are
“fully supporting” the project due to its
“importance for the overseas expansion
of Japan’s railway systems,” JR Central’s
Akahoshi said.
Still, some analysts question whether
maglev technology is a viable export
without strong government support.
Construction costs associated with
maglev trains can run to double or
triple that of regular high-speed rail
lines because of the types of power
and substations required, according
to Bloomberg Intelligence Asia
infrastructure analyst Denise Wong.
The state-owned short-distance
maglev that connects Shanghai Pudong
International Airport to the city and that
started in 2002 has struggled to turn a
profi t, losing more than 1 billion yuan
in its early years. The hefty price-tag
of Japan’s Chuo Shinkansen has also
been thrown into question amid the
coronavirus pandemic, which surveys
predict may permanently alter the need
for business travel between major centres.
“What’s important is which project
will be better able to justify the cost,”
Wong said, referring to the intercity
maglevs planned by China and Japan.
That’s more crucial than “who gets
there fi rst,” she said. — Tribune News

Friday, November 27, 2020



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Progressives may

not like Biden’s

foreign policy

Shortly after President-elect Joe Biden clinched his party’s
nomination in May, a group of 50 progressive organisations
sent his campaign a letter urging him to commit to a broad
agenda of foreign policy reform. They wanted him to agree to
such policies as re-entering the Iran nuclear deal and cutting
at least $200 billion from the Pentagon budget.
Six months later, Biden has given his answer: With his
choice of Antony Blinken for secretary of state and Jake
Sullivan as national security adviser, as well as his expected
nomination of Michele Flournoy for secretary of defence,
Biden has signalled that his national security cabinet will be
more centrist than the left fl ank of his party would like.
To be sure, Blinken, Sullivan and Flournoy will not give
Saudi Arabia the greenlight it has come to expect from the
Trump administration. Biden’s appointment of John Kerry
to be his climate czar shows that an issue the Trump White
House did not care about will be a priority for Biden. And
Biden has committed to trying to rejoin the 2015 Iran nuclear
deal if Iran comes back into compliance with it.
At the same time, all
three choices come out
of the moderate wing of
the Democratic Party.
Blinken is a longtime aide
to Biden going back to
his tenure as chairman
of the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee.
He has emphasised in
the last year how a Biden
administration would
focus on rebuilding relationships with allies that Trump has
He has also signalled that he is more clear-eyed on Middle
East policy than his party’s progressive activists. Last month,
for example, Blinken told the Insider that even if the Biden
administration suspends nuclear-related sanctions on Iran,
“we will continue non-nuclear sanctions as a strong hedge
against Iran in other areas.” If Biden keeps that promise, then
Iran would still be under considerable fi nancial pressure
because the Trump administration has ramped up sanctions
on Iran for its support of terrorism.
In other areas of the world, Biden is not quite reading
from the progressive playbook. That May letter to Biden
urged him to reject eff orts to work to unseat the regimes of
adversaries and oppose the “broad based” sanctions on Iran
and Venezuela. But in a talk last year at the Hudson Institute,
Sullivan wasn’t in complete agreement. When asked about
Trump’s Venezuela policy, he said a military intervention was
too risky, and that it was wiser to focus on nonmilitary policy.
“That means doubling down on the sanctions pieces and
continuing to build the international coalition around this
and particularly focus on breaking off China, Cuba and Russia
from Venezuela,” Sullivan said.
Flournoy, too, is a centrist on defence policy. She has
publicly opposed signifi cant defence cuts and advocated for
rebuilding the military to meet new challenges from China
and Russia. This was a key point of her testimony before the
House Armed Services Committee last year, when she said
her primary concern was that a miscalculation by Russia or
China could lead to a major confrontation with the US. She
advocated that the US “procure and deploy all of the systems
necessary” to deter both countries from any misbehaviour.
Compare that to the May 11 letter from progressives, which
called for greater diplomatic engagement with Russia and
China. “Overhyping the threat these countries pose to the
United States intensifi es fear, racism, and hate domestically,”
it said.
It’s still very early days to assess what a Biden foreign policy
will look like. Nonetheless, Biden’s early signals show that, for
now at least, he is charting a centrist course.


early signals

show that, for

now at least, he

is charting a

centrist course

China, Japan to dominate

future of high-speed rail

SUPERFAST: Magnetic levitation, or maglev, trains use powerful magnets to glide along charged tracks at super fast speeds made possible by the lack of friction. A handful
of short distance and experimental maglev trains are already in operation.
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