China-to-America: High-speed rail gone mad?

Chinese state-run media report that China "is considering" building a high-speed railway all the way to America.

The gargantuan project would see track laid from China’s northeast region, through Russia’s Siberia, across the narrow Bering Strait via a tunnel to Alaska, then south through Canada to its final destination, the USA.

The ambitious idea, proposed by Wang Mengshu, a railway expert at the Chinese Academy of Engineering in an interview with Chinese-language Beijing Times last week, was widely circulated in Chinese media.

"In not so distant future, people can take the train from China to the US," wrote the European edition of the state-run China Daily.

The idea’s appeal in China appears to stem not so much from the sheer scale of the project but from what it says about the rise of China as a global force for good – compared to the West’s selfish and imperialistic past.

"The West built today’s world order using warships at sea," wrote Chinese newspaper 21st Century Business Herald, translated by China Daily. "China, India and other emerging Asian countries will make changes to the world order by building a more integrated land transportation system."

"The colonial powers’ maritime war and transportation system benefited themselves, and the world order built on that system is not fair for the developing and least developed countries," the Herald continued.

"But the high-speed railway system, which will be built by different countries working together, can help make the modern world order fairer for the international community as a whole."

According to China Daily, to cross the Bering Strait would require approximately 200km of undersea tunnel.

Although that’s four times longer than the world’s longest rail tunnel now, the Seikan Tunnel in Japan, China Daily says the technology is already in place and will be used on the Fujian to Taiwan high-speed railway tunnel.

The project would be funded and constructed by China, the newspaper said.

Reaction in the English-language media has been laced with skepticism.

Business news publication Quartz estimated that such a rail link would be at least 13,000km long and would cost "north of $200 billion" – about two thirds of China’s current high-speed rail budget.

Along with the cost and the technical challenges, such a project would need buy-in from the three other countries.

Not surprisingly, China Daily concluded its story by writing: "The details of this project are yet to be finalized."

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