Always useful, and often picking up on trends little noticed elsewhere, The Economist, best magazine on the planet, is at its typical best describing China’s massive infrastructure boom.
China’s infrastructure splurge
Rushing on by road, rail and air
Feb 14th 2008 | BEIJING | From The Economist print edition
China’s race to build roads, railways and airports speeds ahead. Democracy, says an official, would sacrifice efficiency
“IT’S like approaching the Forbidden City, it’s absolutely incredible.” The adjective is one that Mouzhan Majidi, chief executive of Foster + Partners, liberally attaches to Beijing’s new airport terminal, designed by his British firm. The world’s largest, designed in the gently sinuous form of a Chinese dragon, it was planned and built in four years by an army of 50,000 workers. “The columns on the outside are red and you see them marching for miles and miles,” says Mr Majidi.
A little hyperbole is understandable. The terminal is 3km (1.8 miles) long. The floor space is 17% bigger than all the terminals at London’s Heathrow combined (including about-to-open Terminal Five). Chinese officials like the Forbidden City analogy. Just as the towering vermilion walls and golden roofs of the imperial palace inspire visitors with awe, China wants its golden-roofed terminal to impress those arriving for the Olympic games in August. Part of a $3.8 billion expansion, which included the opening of a third runway in October, it is due to open on February 29th, weeks ahead of schedule.
The numbers are mind-bending. Beijing’s airport is now the ninth busiest in the world. The longest sea-crossing bridge: 36km (22+ miles), six-lanes, between Shanghai and Ningbo (anyone else never hear before of Ningbo, much less that it’s important enough to build the longest bridge in the world to get there?).
A bullet train line line, 1,300km long (MUDGE’s handy metrification card helps me convert that to nearly 808 miles) will halve the rail time from Beijing to Shanghai to five hours, competitive to flying.
Conventional rail lines are expanding at an enormous rate, bigger than any country’s since the nineteenth century. And they need to, as at present they carry 25% of the planet’s rail traffic on just 6% of its length.
How is this happening so quickly? The Economist discusses the fact that the government makes a decision and acts.
Land gets confiscated (the government owns it all, right?), villagers are uprooted without compensation, noise and other environmental pollution grows apace, but no one in government is letting that slow things down. That Beijing air terminal was built in the same length of time that the British took just to have hearings about one new building at Heathrow. Hearings, not construction.
Xu Li, an official at the Ministry of Communications’ transport research institute, agrees that China’s infrastructure expansion is not as restrained by rules as it is in America. Once a plan is made, it is executed. “Democracy”, she says, “sacrifices efficiency.”
[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]
What the story does not spend time on is where the funds for this lavish infrastructure spending spree has come from.
It’s you, Wal-Mart shopper (and let’s face it, Target shopper, Best Buy shopper, Home Depot shopper, et nauseam).
All the big box stores only can fill those big boxes with the “affordable” merchandise the U.S. consumer has convinced herself she can’t live without because they’re paying for said goods to their Chinese vendors.
So, guess the good news is that, with the highways, rail lines, bridges and new airports (10 more with 30million passenger capacity by 2020!), your retail treasures will arrive even more promptly.
It’s only right. You’re financing China’s infrastructure growth, along with the dictatorship that sponsors it.
Ain’t capitalism grand?
The Asian Century, indeed.
It’s it for now. Thanks,
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