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China News Technology

China's Engineering Mega-Projects Dwarf the Great Wall 206

HughPickens.com writes: David Barboza has an interesting article in the NYT about China's engineering megaprojects. For example, there's the world's longest underwater tunnel, which will run twice the length of the one under the English Channel, and bore deep into one of Asia's active earthquake zones, creating a rail link between two northern port cities, Dalian and Yantai. Throughout China, equally ambitious projects with multibillion-dollar price tags are already underway. The world's largest bridge. The biggest airport. The longest gas pipeline. Such enormous infrastructure projects are a Chinese tradition. From the Great Wall to the Grand Canal and the Three Gorges Dam, this nation for centuries has used colossal public-works projects to showcase its engineering prowess and project its economic might.

In November, for example, the powerful National Development and Reform Commission approved plans to spend nearly $115 billion on 21 supersize infrastructure projects, including new airports and high-speed rail lines. "Clearly, China's cost advantages are going to shrink somewhat over the longer-term and prices for projects are only going to rise," says Victor Chuan Chen. "I think the government has done an admirable job in getting many of these projects off the ground while the economics were still very favorable." China is pushing the boundaries of infrastructure-building, with ever bolder proposals. The Dalian tunnel looks small compared with the latest idea to build an "international railway" that would link China to the United States by burrowing under the Bering Strait and creating a tunnel between Russia and Alaska.

But whether China really needs this much big infrastructure — or can even afford it — is a contentious issue. Some economists worry that China might eventually be mired in enormous debt (PDF) and many experts say such projects also exact a heavy toll on local communities and the environment, as builders displace people, clear forests, reroute rivers and erect dams. "It makes sense to accelerate infrastructure spending during a downturn, when capital and labor are underemployed," says David Dollar. But "if the growth rate is propped up through building unnecessary infrastructure, eventually there could be a sharp slowdown that reveals that the infrastructure was really not needed at all."
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China's Engineering Mega-Projects Dwarf the Great Wall

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  • Infrastructure (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Kaenneth ( 82978 ) on Tuesday January 13, 2015 @09:13PM (#48808041) Homepage Journal

    It's easy for us in the US to decry China building massive projects, when we already have our transcontinental rail, interstate highways, panama canal, etc. which would require so much 'environmental review' today, (just look at the difficulty of building modern nuclear power plants.)

    • by Ichijo ( 607641 )
      And because no road pays for itself in gas taxes and user fees [worldchanging.com], you could argue that if the direct users aren't willing to pay for the roads we have without asking for subsidies, we have too many roads.
      • Yeah, that's Texas. Millions of square miles of nothing combined with a population who think cars are a god-given right, but taxes equal communism. Come back with something less contrived.
      • Re:Infrastructure (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Tough Love ( 215404 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2015 @03:25AM (#48809371)

        Many roads benefit taxpayers whether they use them or not, for example, roads that carry freight, or roads that take the load away from other roads that the taxpayer does use. So while a taxpayer may not be willing to pay in the hopes that somebody else will, the taxpayer still better pay. That is why having a government and tax laws is not necessarily all bad.

        • by Ichijo ( 607641 )

          Many roads benefit taxpayers whether they use them or not

          I don't think anybody doubts that. But the important question is whether each road is a net benefit. (A "net" benefit is when the benefit exceeds the cost.)

          When we pay for roads with user fees, it's a simple thing to determine whether they are worth the cost (simply calculate revenue minus costs to the supplier), but it's almost impossible to tell when we pay for them with non-user taxes.

          The other problem that occurs when we don't ask people to pay f

    • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
      And don't forget "environmental problem" includes moving people from sub-standard housing to nicer homes elsewhere. I saw the slums torn down for the Olympics. No running water, and other problems. Rather than tearing them down to build new ones in the same spot, they built new ones elsewhere, and the people living in the slums got an upgrade. But it's still a human rights violation because a renter had to move apartments. And somehow any human rights issue is an "environmental" issue.

      I just hope some
    • Re:Infrastructure (Score:4, Informative)

      by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Tuesday January 13, 2015 @10:39PM (#48808455)

      It's easy for us in the US to decry China building massive projects

      We shouldn't decry them. We should envy them. I wish America was still capable of doing stuff like this. Here in California, it will take 30 years to complete our high speed rail at a cost of $500,000 per seat. The Chinese built the longer Shangai-to-Beijing line in three years, for less than a tenth of the cost.

    • It's easy for us in the US to decry China building massive projects...

      Somebody was decrying? Slight terminology skew, perhaps you meant "deride", which does seem to be the intent of mischaracterizing infrastructure projects as showcases. Any American who feels the urge to to deride other country's showcases should just mutter "Mount Rushmore" to themselves.

      • by gtall ( 79522 )

        Mt. Rushmore wasn't built by the U.S. government. It wouldn't be allowed in China unless it depicted one of their dickless leaders.

    • All of these finished years ago before NIMBYs and lawyers stifled everything. Good for China on its new mega-projects. The value returned to their economy will more than pay the debt associated with construction, contrary to the New York Times weenie's assertions.

  • Enormous debt? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Tuesday January 13, 2015 @09:18PM (#48808067) Journal
    China might go into 'enormous debt' to build things? Every other country has already gone into 'enormous debt,' why shouldn't they take advantage of the opportunity while they still can? Get while the getting is good.

    At least they'll have something built to show for it, unlike spending that money to bail out banks (and if anyone wants to protest that the banks paid back TARP, I'm well aware of that, and also aware they got their government money through other channels).
    • Re:Enormous debt? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by AHuxley ( 892839 ) on Tuesday January 13, 2015 @09:41PM (#48808205) Homepage Journal
      Re "Get while the getting is good."
      China learns how to use the tech over decades. Then China leans how to build the tech. China can then export their version of the same heavy civil engineering services.
      China can now bid for huge projects. China can now offer aid packages to other nations with large scale nation building civil engineering projects at a lower cost.
      Thats great news for China and the optics of project branding around the world. A quality project or aid package is delivered on budget and on time by China.
      China has understood the value of aid projects around the world since the 1960's.
      • Re:Enormous debt? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by TheRealHocusLocus ( 2319802 ) on Tuesday January 13, 2015 @11:03PM (#48808537)

        The human race (at our favored levels of population density) has evolved past the point where a natural state of good health can be maintained without access to bulk electricity, which equates to drinkable tap water. This is a greater factor than access to doctors or medicine. We pledge 'aid' to help to help countries around the world but so much of that help is NOT building infrastructure.

        What China is doing is building a modern China from scratch in record time. They have the blueprints in hand. They even know that they are making mistakes (eg, coal) but they're focused on the prize. Cuba trades doctors for useful things. China will be able to trade everything for things.

        To me it seems our major export these days are Financial Instruments and Financial Middlemen, and the structured debt that arises in their wake. But not to worry, the principal of these loans do not tap your hard-earned taxpayer dollars, many of which go toward repayment of interest on our own national debt. This is magical unicorn money that will come from World Investment Funds and Bank perpetual money machines that are backed by International Corporate Banks that bought shitloads of worthless paper and were bailed out by Bushobama with the Fed minting virtual money that saved the banks' balance sheets from ruin, and Treasury Bonds purchased by the Chinese who have said fuck-it and have decided to decouple and give Africa (for example) their time and especially their money directly, some of which would ultimately come from us as repayment on debt to China with China becoming Africa's direct partner in infrastructure instead. This does not make sense on so many levels.

        The United States has shown the world what it means to have access to so much energy and surplus income: property, personal transportation, washing machines, treated water and sewage, road trips, stocked supermarkets.

        And yet, nothing presently "made in America" could prevent its decline. Not only have most of its factories closed, the basic blueprint for every consumer item and industrial process which supports the modern lifestyle is shared throughout the world. This is a done deal.

        For a price --- China is now fully equipped to build an 'America' anywhere in the world it chooses. From surveying to road building to farm machinery to industrial process and infrastructure, electricity plants and grids, telecommunications, water distribution and treatment. Everything from rivets to houses, the mailbox, the picket fence and the white paint. Everything.

        And why wouldn't they? They have begun taking steps to decouple their economy from our own [bloomberg.com] [bloomberg.com]. At this point in time the US cannot afford to be parlaying with Malthusian governance artists who seize on theories of environmental catastrophe and leverage 'affluence guilt' to tax everyone (YOU first). The ONLY thing that can save us is to do something extraordinary, something that changes the game. Something made in America (first) that changes the world.

        Such as some form of base load energy that is cheaper than coal [youtube.com].
        At this point anything else the United States could offer the world, or China, is worth less than a fart in a high wind.

        • Re:Enormous debt? (Score:4, Interesting)

          by AHuxley ( 892839 ) on Tuesday January 13, 2015 @11:24PM (#48808635) Homepage Journal
          Re: " and have decided to decouple and give Africa (for example) their time and especially their money directly, some of which would ultimately come from us as repayment on debt to China with China becoming Africa's direct partner in infrastructure instead. This does not make sense on so many levels."
          China can now offer a project as a bid against other traditional US, UK or EU consortium offers. China can offer a project as a loan, soft loan or as an aid project.
          Once the project using parts, equipment, planning and staff from China is completed the long term maintenance is also included.
          The next local mining, gas, oil land release can then see a China bid in play. Direct aid flows in and cheaper geographically bound raw materials flow back to China.
          China can then value add on any exported consumer or high end product with lower raw material costs.
          China wins from the branding and humanitarian side and then gets direct prices for much needed raw materials to build its own manufacturing brands.
          The only way for the West and old colonial powers to counter this is a huge propaganda campaign to try and secure the Wests role in telco, aid, engineering and raw material contracts.
          China now has several generations of trust and project completion around the world going back decades.
    • Re:Enormous debt? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by antifoidulus ( 807088 ) on Tuesday January 13, 2015 @10:44PM (#48808473) Homepage Journal
      Because China is on track to end up like Japan, an incredibly moribund economy with a shrinking working-age demographic(the population is barely growing and set to peak within a decade), an allergy to any sort of unemployment, even if temporary, and lots and lots of bad debt. I've been saying this for years, China copied the Japanese model right down to the bad debts. Japan has been creating "roads to nowhere" for decades and it has essentially netted them very little besides more debt(Japan has the highest debt to gdp ratio in the G7, something like 250%, though unlike the US debt most of it is still held domestically...for the moment anyway). China today is Japan circa 1988, lots and lots of exuberance, but the writing is on the wall. It will be interesting to see if China can learn from Japan's mistakes. My guess is no since the CCP knows that their biggest weakness is unemployment, but I guess we will see.
      • Japan hit the ceiling once their GDP/capita got to the level of the rest of the Western economies. China is a long way from getting there in GDP/capita.

        • Japan would have recovered by now if it wasn't for the earthquake/tsunami and closing down all the nuclear power plants.

          • Huh? The bubble burst in 1989, the earthquakes were in 2011, they aren't related.
            • The GDP/capita kept growing until much after that.
              http://www.google.com/publicda... [google.com]

              Until 1995. Guess what happened in 1995? Kobe earthquake.

            • To the guy who downmodded me. Sorry for insulting your envirowacko perspective but not surprisingly Japan's GDP goes down after they have large earthquakes and when they need to spend more money importing fuel like coal.

              Don't believe me? Look at the GDP/capita chart for Japan fall down a cliff in 1995 and 2011.

      • No. I can't agree with this at all. I have been to both countries and there is too big a cultural difference.

        You can horribly sum it up by saying the Japanese are all about the group and the Chinese are more about themselves (ie closer to the west).

        The Japanese have their problems because their culture is incredibly strict. They could almost immediately solve their shrinking population problem by opening themselves to immigration but it simply isn't going to happen.

        You noted that the debt is held domesti

        • Um, I was speaking economically. While certainly there is a connection between economics and culture, it's nowhere near as strong as you seem to think it is(nor are the cultures all that different, both are at their core confucian societies). I never said that the Japanese would start selling their bonds, but it's doubtful with a savings rate that hovers around 1%(and with the current stagflation may even fall to below 0) that the Japanese can actually afford to buy new ones. Thats why the bonds may incr
          • I believe that culture and economics are inextricably linked. The culture of a country determines the type of government that it builds and the type of government it builds effects its economy. A very simple example is the difference between the US and Europe. Both are "western" yet the European system has leant towards a more socialist model which is definitely reflected in their economy.

            Japan and China are incredibly different culturally. Japan carries deep in its psyche the fact that it is an isolate

    • I'm curious what is going to happen when the Chinese don't want, or can't afford, any US debt.
      • To get an idea of the size of the problem, you should start here. [wikipedia.org] Look at what percentage of the national debt is held by foreign governments, and of that, how much is held by China.

        I certainly don't claim to know, but during the Clinton era, demand for US bonds decreased, and the interest paid by the government began to increase accordingly. It got bad enough that congress and the president began to worry (and insult those 'bond vultures'), and cut deficit spending to a degree.
  • In November, for example, the powerful National Development and Reform Commission approved plans to spend nearly $115 billion on 21 supersize infrastructure projects,

    There is an estimate [theday.co.uk] that the China-Russia-Canada-US line may cost $2T or almost 17 times the budget for those projects. I doubt it will ever be built. I love one of the quotes from the article;

    Who would ever take a two-day train journey from Beijing to San Francisco when they could fly there in 12 hours?

    There may be a few but I doubt enough to pay for and support 13,000km of track through some very harsh terrain which gets worse in winter and a 200km tunnel under water.

    • There may be a few but I doubt enough to pay for and support 13,000km of track through some very harsh terrain which gets worse in winter and a 200km tunnel under water.

      My thought was cargo. Though it's a tough, tough sell up against cargo ships.

      • Even cargo is an issue as the line is designed to be high speed. The average speed of US for freight trains is 29 kmh. To go 13,000km it would take about 18 days. That is about the same as ship transit time. I agree, I doubt it can compete on freight either.

        • I wonder if gigantic coal trains are included in that average, and the US is known for having many freight-only tracks. If you care about throughput but less so about speed, and don't want to spend more billions in maintenance then you run the freight trains slow, especially if you're not obstructing passenger trains (or hardly have them).

          Regarding ships there's the time and expense wasted in loading/unloading and warehousing (sort of the equivalent of your TSA and checking luggages). It should be a lot eas

          • Regarding ships there's the time and expense wasted in loading/unloading and warehousing (sort of the equivalent of your TSA and checking luggages). It should be a lot easier to drive your container to a freight rail station and have it loaded on a train.

            Ships take containers too so no warehousing is involved. Most sipt transport is now either bulk or containerized now.

            Especially, the train would allow a "get this shipped under two weeks" scenario

            Except that blizzards in Siberia and Alaska would close the track possibly for days. We are talking about a route through some pretty harsh territory.

            • I thought about "warehousing" the containers, which is a bad choice of word (esp. considering they sit outside anyway). Containers wait ashore for the boat to come in if it isn't there already, wait for their time to be moved around in that gigantic and overlord port, wait on the boat till other containers have been loaded and till everything is ready, then it's a similar dance on the other side of the ocean.
              Container on freight train would be pretty much routed towards its final destination already when th

              • Containers destined for rail cars wait at the station for the train to come in, wait while to be moved around the train station, wait till the other containers are loaded on the train and till everything is ready and then a similar dance at the other train station. Loading a container onto a train is very similar to loading onto a ship.

          • A major advantage of the rail route is speed. The train took just three weeks to complete a journey that takes up to six weeks by sea.

            Is that compared to a huge container ship that could not pass through the Suez Canal and therefore has to go around Africa? Going around the Horn will add thousands of kilometres, and therefore time, to the trip. The China-US route is the opposite in that the rail route is 13,000km while the sea route is 7,000km.

            It is also more environmentally friendly than road transport, which would produce 114 tonnes of CO2 to shift the same volume of goods, compared with the 44 tonnes produced by the train – a 62% reduction.

            I find it interesting that the compare rail to truck and not ship. Ships are known to burn less fuel per ton/km.

            I wonder how much it cost to pull this off. With 3 train swaps due to rail gauge dif

    • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
      Cargo from China would be cheaper on train that boat.

      That and if it ever does take off, my property in Alaska will shoot up in value. I'm holding off selling until they build a natural gas pipeline (to canada or along the oil pipeline) or connection to Russia. One of them will probably happen sometime.
      • Do you have any idea the cost of keeping a rail line through Siberia, Alaska and Northern BC open during the winter?

  • As is usual, there's always an appropriate metal song warning of the folly of man: https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

    Today the warning came in the flood
    Architects and fools never cared for poor men's blood
    Cursed to repeat the past they are
    The river dragon swims upstream
    They've built another wall.

    Ironically based on Chinese myth to.

  • by Alomex ( 148003 ) on Tuesday January 13, 2015 @09:58PM (#48808269) Homepage

    In contrast in America, republican hopeful Governor Chris Christie refused to allow a new tunnel to be built linking New Jersey and New York.

  • Clearly the Times is doing all the work.....

  • Very admirable (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Chipmunk100 ( 3619141 ) on Tuesday January 13, 2015 @10:18PM (#48808361)
    For those of you who have not been to China, what China does in terms of infrastructure projects is quite laudable. For a population of that size and country of that size, they need such projects for faster development. In the US, we are more interested in political scoring than building infrastructure or other developmental projects. Is it a sign of decay for us?
    • The state of repair of US roads in general, from freeways to alleys, ought to be a major embarrassment to every American. No wonder that American cars have loose springs.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        There was a great piece about this on 60 Minutes recently (http://www.cbs.com/shows/60_minutes/video/wDHgIRBoeP_q4gHkLL0kheu_bLmCiFD9/preview-falling-apart/).

        ASCE has a D+ rating on American infrastructure. Many of them are well beyond their projected life. Most telling part of it was having to build a structure to shield a highway underneath a overpass from falling concrete. That overpass is still being used even with concrete crumbling away. Everyone in the program including the politicians agree that som

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      That's the one thing they were much cleverer about than the other BRICs: infrastructure. In general, it's pretty good as long as you don't look at the details. Taking a closer look still shows many problems. E.g. while there are many really good airports, the military controlled air traffic system is a joke, as pretty much every domestic flight is delayed.
      High speed trains are awesome, and they're great for prestige and getting customers to buy that technology. Yet they're out of price range for the majorit

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by BayaWeaver ( 1048744 )

        High speed trains are awesome, and they're great for prestige and getting customers to buy that technology. Yet they're out of price range for the majority of customers.

        Maybe not? This from a recent World Bank report: [worldbank.org]
        "As of October 1, 2014, over 2.9 billion passengers are estimated to have taken a trip in a China Rail - High Speed train (called CRH services), with traffic growing from 128 million in 2008 to 672 million in 2013, or about 39 percent growth per annum since 2008. In 2013, 530 million of those CRH trips took place on passenger dedicated HSR lines. In 2013, China HSR lines carried slightly more HSR passenger-km (214 billion) than the rest of the world combined

      • by dave420 ( 699308 )
        HSR isn't what you seem to think it is. In many countries it's used by poor and rich alike, and makes a great deal of sense.
      • High speed trains are awesome, and they're great for prestige and getting customers to buy that technology. Yet they're out of price range for the majority of customers.

        Yet they are only a fraction of the price of European high speed rail tickets. I would guestimate that the costs per traveled kilometer on Chinese high speed rail is only 25% of that in Germany or France.

        So, yes, it is relatively expensive to travel by high speed rail for the Chinese and many cannot afford it, but it is not ridiculously expensive either. Their economy is growing fast, and every year millions more people enter the income range where they can afford the high speed rail, so it makes a lot of s

    • Another thing they do is they mix zinc into the steel they use for the rails. This means it is much much harder to work with but is essentially stainless and will last forever.

  • Really, what is any other country going to do about it? At some point they will stop lending them money, but at that point China has already had half its nation reconstructed for free.
    • by quenda ( 644621 )

      Not pay the debt? When a few hundred million Chinese citizens see their life saving evaporate, how secure do you think the Party is going to feel?

      Really, what is any other country going to do about it?

      What do other countries have to do with this?

  • I hardly think so. For one thing, it is wrong to talk about "a" great wall, it is actually a sprawling agglomeration of many walls built over hundreds of years. [wikipedia.org] Its primary function was a matter of survival, a military means of countering attacks from various upstarts in the north.

  • Think of the possibilities. That could fill 230 potholes in California!

  • American *has* to have the biggest military on Earth.

    We spend more on "defense" than the next 10 countries combined. We have spent more on a single fighter plane program (the F-35, which still doesn't work), than the entire defense programs of most other nations on the planet.

    We just have our 'infrastructure" in a different way. Instead of building, we're looking to destroy. So when other countries make roads and dams, we make bombs.

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