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One Project Cannot Tell All
By Lan Xinzhen | NO. 2 JANUARY 14, 2016


India's first high-speed railway will be built in 2017 using Japanese Shinkansen technology, an agreement finalized during Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to India in December 2015. This 505-km route, with a total investment from Japan worth 980 billion rupees ($14.68 billion), will link the Indian financial hub of Mumbai with Ahmedabad, the commercial center of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home state, Gujarat, cutting the travel time from eight hours to two.

Normal infrastructure construction cooperation between Japan and India, however, is regarded by some Western media as Japan's "victory" over China, as part of the former's global high-speed railway plan. Some observers also take this as India's "preference" toward Japan.

Those opinions might be understandable in an era driven by strong ideologies, but today, under the trend of globalization, this kind of outdated Cold War mentality causes confusion.

Every country has the right to choose its partners, and India has its reasons to adopt Japan's technology for this project. As the largest country in Southeast Asia and the second most populated nation in the world, India is looking to develop a number of high-speed railways since the country has just started to boost the construction of its infrastructure facilities. Thus it would be unreasonable to announce "Japan's victory" or "India's indifference to China" based on one project.

China-India relations have actually advanced in recent years, with the two having reached consensus to deepen their cooperation during Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to India in 2014. The Indian side pushed the relationship forward in 2015 when Modi visited China and signed a handful of investment agreements. Therefore, China-India relations won't be weakened by the latter's signing of a high-speed railway deal with another bidder.

India will remain a major partner for China in many ways. It is indeed one of the most important markets for Chinese foreign investment. China has also enhanced its trade and tourism exchanges with India, a critical partner in China's Belt and Road Initiative.

In the past two years, China and India have discussed cooperation on high-speed railways. Chinese companies will keep looking for more opportunities in this field. As for India, it can draw on China's experience in promoting economic development, particularly in improving infrastructure facilities.

Meanwhile, India's decision to cooperate with Japan could be viewed from another angle. China and India have different national conditions, including those of construction efficiency. Though they started to develop an expressway network at almost the same time as China's, expressways in India total some 500 km, as opposed to more than 100,000 km in China. This shows that India has experienced difficulties in building expressways.

Likewise, India is likely to encounter obstacles as it seeks to build high-speed railways. The Mumbai-Ahmedabad line could be a pilot project for India to solve its problems in high-speed railway development. Its construction may serve as a lesson to foreign companies intending to cooperate with their Indian counterparts in the future.

Japan estimates the per-km cost of the Mumbai-Ahmedabad railway at about $30 million, far less than that of the high-speed rail it built in Taiwan years ago. This is clearly a bad deal for Japan. If Japan signed this deal out of political reasons, whether it can finish in six years is still a question. Compared to the Shinkansen, Chinese high-speed railway technology, which comes at a much lower cost, has proved more mature in terms of its construction and maintenance conditions.

India's choice of Japan for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad line does not rule out possibilities of future high-speed rail cooperation with China. Now that China and India forged consensus on their border disputes, a lingering problem for the two neighbors, during Xi's 2014 visit to India, the China-India strategic partnership will only become enhanced in the years to come, which will benefit Chinese and Indian businesses and people alike.

Copyedited by Mara Lee Durrell 

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