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November 26, 2015

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European leaders enjoy China speed

HEADS of governments from central and eastern Europe (CEE) nations got to experience “China speed” at firsthand yesterday when, accompanied by Premier Li Keqiang, they boarded the country’s most advanced bullet train.

The CRH380A has a maximum speed of 486 kilometers per hour and a 25-minute trip took the leaders from the garden city of Suzhou to Shanghai, 100 kilometers away, speeding past industrial parks and factories on what was bare farmland just a decade ago.

At that speed, the train would take less than 20 hours to travel from Beijing to any of the leaders’ hometowns.

Flags of China and 16 CEE countries and slogans that read “16+1>17” were painted on the body of the 16-carriage train, highlighting cooperation and development between China and the 16 countries which had just completed an annual summit meeting in Suzhou in east China’s Jiangsu Province.

“The trip mirrors China-CEE cooperation — high speed, but comfortable and reassuring,” Li told the European leaders.

“It is very impressive,” said Hungarian Prime Minister Orban Viktor. “China’s development is indeed admirable.”

His words echoed those of Polish President Andrzej Duda who said a day earlier that he hoped Poland and the entire central and eastern Europe could all benefit from China’s growth.

Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Roivas expressed hopes that China would take part in high-speed railway construction in the Baltic region.

Yesterday’s excursion came just a day after China signed two separate deals with Hungary and Serbia on a high-speed rail link between Budapest and Belgrade that could cut travel time between the two capitals from eight hours to less than three.

Once completed, the railway will become part of a fast lane for importing and exporting goods between China and Europe.

China is actively working to export high-speed rail technology, with domestic and foreign media sometimes referring to Premier Li as the country’s top railway salesman. The term “high-speed railway diplomacy” has entered Chinese political parlance.

China’s first overseas high-speed rail project was completed in Turkey in 2014 where a 533-kilometer railway links capital Ankara with Istanbul. In Africa, China’s technology will be the backbone of the public transport systems in countries including Nigeria and Ethiopia.

In September, Malaysia began running the world’s fastest meter-gauge multiple unit trains made by Chinese. Laos, Thailand and Russia also plan high-speed railway lines with Chinese investment.

In South America, Chinese trains began ferrying Buenos Aires’ commuters to work last November.

High-speed rail in Central and Eastern Europe is a new idea, but the long-term effects are not difficult to assess. With China’s ambitious plans taking shape, Central and Eastern Europe will soon have a new, convenient channel to import and export products to and from Asia.

For China, these deals are not just about trains, but so much more.

In official political parlance, the Chinese word “train” almost always takes on an extra interpretation of being positive and cooperative.


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