Belt and Road maps show how far China’s freight railways run in Asia

The first freight train of the Lancang-Mekong Express will depart Kunming, China on January 10, 2022, for the 26-hour journey to Vientiane, the capital of Laos.

China News Service | China News Service | Getty Images

BEIJING – Over the past two years, China has announced the opening of new freight trains, and cross-border railways have been the centerpiece of meetings between President Xi Jinping and regional leaders.

It’s all part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, an intricate network of infrastructure projects linking China with its trading partners.

Here, let’s see where railways are being built on the Asian continent.

The project also includes high-speed passenger trains.

In April, China Railway’s ticket sales app launched online reservations for the 10.5-hour train ride from Yunnan to the Lao capital. If all goes according to plan, the route could one day lead to Bangkok, Thailand’s capital, and Cambodia’s riverside capital, Phnom Penh.

China has also opened freight trains to Laos, Thailand and Vietnam in the past six months, state media said.

In the far north, China last year opened a railroad bridge between remote Heilongjiang province and Russia. A new railway route is under construction to transport coal from Mongolian mines to China, according to state media.

These freight lines add to China’s relatively old rail network through Central Asia, linking Yiwu in eastern China with London.

While it is difficult to verify how all the rail lines operate, the official report provides a glimpse of how China’s Belt and Road ambitions are progressing.

CNBC analyzed the report to create a schematic map of the railroads being built and planned by region.

Based on official reports and state-run media, we planned and built railways in regions in southern China.


Based on official reports and state media, we planned and built railways in regions in southeastern China.


Based on official reports and state media, China has built a railway across its border with Russia in northern China.


Planned and built a cross-border railroad between northern China and Mongolia based on official reports and state media.


Based on official reports and state media, railways were built in regions in western China.


China’s One Belt, One Road initiative was launched in 2013, when President Xi took office. The plan is widely seen as the Chinese government’s effort to increase its global influence through the development of rail, shipping and other transportation routes from Asia to Europe and Africa.

“Separating Europe from the United States, at least to the extent possible, is an important foreign policy goal for China, and deepening economic integration facilitated by stronger rail ties will help,” said Stephen Olson, senior fellow at the Heinrich Foundation. Let’s go,” he said.

Similarly, “part of China’s motivation for building a rail network in ASEAN is to make China more central to regional trade,” he said, referring to the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations bloc.

Olsson said that while railways could be “game-changing” for inland economies like Laos, the responsibility is to develop logistics and other infrastructure to make the most of new rail lines for trade. is also in the destination country.

one-third of China’s trade

The Chinese government says trade with Belt and Road countries accounts for about a third of China’s total imports and exports. Official figures showed trade increased 16.8% year-on-year in the first quarter, which is slower than her 19.4% pace for the whole of last year.

Françoise Huang, senior economist at Allianz Trade, said it was difficult to gauge the true trade-enhancing effect of railroads. She pointed out that transporting goods by rail is considerably cheaper than by air and faster than by land or sea.

He said his assessment of the reports showed that railways are often used to transport Chinese exports to other countries, rather than Chinese imports.

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Since 2013, Belt and Road-related construction contracts have totaled $573 billion, according to estimates released in January by Christoph Nedhpil, the founding director of the Center for Green Finance Development at Fudan University in Shanghai. Including non-financial investments, the figure is close to $1 trillion, the report says.

Critics say China is hoarding developing countries with huge debts through massive infrastructure projects, while benefiting Chinese companies, many of which are state-owned.

“An analysis of the impact of freight routes is inseparable from an analysis of the overall impact of closer trade ties with China,” Olson said.

“For some countries, this may work better than others. China’s economy is much larger than any single economy in ASEAN, which creates influence, sometimes imbalanced and unsustainable. could result in significant trade relations.”

China’s top economic planning agency, the National Development and Reform Commission, highlighted progress in international rail construction in its March annual report. The commission also said it was aware of the risks.

“Our company develops large-scale overseas projects while vigilant against related risks, helps enterprises to be vigilant and avoid overseas investment risks, and provides a comprehensive system for monitoring, evaluating and early warning of risks associated with overseas projects. We quickly worked to build a strong service platform.”

China will host the third Belt and Road Forum this year, although the timing has not been specified. According to state media, Xi invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to attend.

— CNBC’s Bryn Bache contributed to this report.

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