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Eisenbahnprojekt Myanmar 02. Jan.2001 http://www.chinaproject.de
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China entwickelt Eisenbahnkonzept zur Erschließung eines Landweges nach Myanmar und zum Indischen Ozean

IT WILL TAKE SIX YEARS TO FINISH-if all goes well. And because it worft make money, it will require substantial public funding. But if the day comes when Southeast Asia's leaders drive the last spike into the $2.5 billion trans-Asia railway from Singapore to Kunming, it will make possible some pretty exotic itineraries:

Departure from Singapore, up the Malay Peninsula, across Indochina, and into China. From there, the track's the limit. Pending an opening of North Korea's railways and a proposed train tunnel between South Korea and Japan, the passenger could wake up in Tokyo. Or, going in the other direction, he could cross Siberia and wind up in the Scottish highlands.

That is the grand vision of a project which leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China, meeting in Singapore in November, said "should be moved forward." What began as a Malaysian idea four years ago is finally to be implemented. "The key now is action, not just talk," Singapore's Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong said at the summit. "So from now, I believe, you will see more action."

Like pan-Asian efforts to build a common voice on political, economic and security issues, it will be some time before the trans-Asian railway can be declared a success. of the 5,5oo-kilometre network from Singapore to Kunming in southwest China, 4,5oo kilometres already exist in various states of repair as part of national railways. The project is intended to link them, upgrade them, build new spurs, and make the whole systern fünction as one.

The cost of the project could escalate quickly, especially the spurs being built to Burma and Laos. Security issues will be troublesome, particularly at the Vietnam-China and BurmaThailand borders, where tensions could hinder an efficient train service, deterring passengers and shippers alike.

BUILDING A POLITICAL COMMUNITY

Overcoming these issues will require just the sort of political will needed to make diplomatic cooperation within Asean, as well as Asia, a reality~ In that sense, the trans-Asia railway will prove a litmus test of that larger endeavour.

"It is a way for Asia to invest in building a political community," says K.S. Nathan, a specialist in regional affairs at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur. "It will show the extent to which ideological division has fallen and economics has come to the fore in the region."

Even ifthe project never lives up to billing, it may still prove its worth. Asean uses jaw-jaw to prevent war-war, what the jawjaw yields often seems secondary as long as it keeps regional tensions down. Analysts say that the real importance of the trans-Asia railway could be the political benefits of building it and running it. "We are a region being built on processes rather than results," says Nathan. "The railway is another method of keeping the process of regionalism going."

Back in 196o, the United Nations proposed a Singaporeto-India railway through Burma. But war and revolution put that idea on hold. Asia's economic boom prompted Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to revive the idea in 1995, with a northem route through Vietnam and China. It was seen as a way of helping spur development in Cambodia, Burma and Laos, which have since joined Asean.

The 5,5oo-kilometre line would run through seven Asean countries. New track on the main line, a total Of43i kilometres, would join Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam at a cOst Of $700 million. But the biggest cost would be the spur lines to Burma and Laos, covering 585 kilometres, including some very difficult terrain, at a cost of $1.8 billion.

The $2.5 billion estimate is probably far too low, says a Malaysian Transport Ministry official. It does not include the cost to each country for upgrading its existing network, including machinery to handle the transfer of carriages and cargo on to different gauges of railway. Nor does it include the new rail freight services promised to Indonesia, the Philippines and Brunei to link them to the network.

Even at $2.5 billion, the feasibility study predicts that the project would not be commercially viable. That means most of the funding will have to come from governments and international development loans.

Either way, as a symbol and spur to political integration, it might be money well spent. Says Nathan: "It will create an institution that cannot be easily dismantled."

 

 

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