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Reading Africa's train of thoughts(2)

2014-05-12 11:09 chinadaily.com.cn Web Editor: Wang Fan

As part of its cooperation efforts with Africa, China could help countries like Ethiopia and Kenya build railways, just as it did in building the Tanzania-Zambia Railway in the 1970s, which is a silent testimony to Sino-African friendship.

China has an excellent record in building railways. The China Railway Construction Corporation has built tens of thousands of kilometers of railways almost without any quality problems. Besides, the competition between CSR and China CNR Corporation, China's two giants to produce rail transportation equipment, forces them to offer their best products and services to the market.

China-made trains and railway products may not necessarily be the best in the world, but they are relatively cheap and better than most of their competitors in performance-cost ratio. In fact, China's trains have passed the tough test of running in severe climate conditions. Media reports say that when Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn asked Li whether China-made trains would suit Africa's conditions, the premier said their performance in the tough climates of the Xinjiang Uygur and Tibet autonomous regions prove their quality. This means China-made trains will have no problems running smoothly in Africa.

The building of railways in African countries will boost their economies. A comprehensive railway network could prove especially beneficiary for a country like Ethiopia that has a large land area and produces huge quantities of quality agricultural products.

In building railways, China usually offers only core technology and employs most of the workers from among local residents. So if it is asked to build railways in African countries, China can help create many jobs for the local people, which, in turn, will stimulate consumption and form a virtuous circle. That would once again give the lie to Western propaganda that China is practicing "neo-colonialism" in Africa.

But building railways in Africa will not be without problems, and continuous flow of funds could be the biggest one. That's why it is important that China concentrates on building normal (as opposed to high-speed) railways in Africa. Moreover, for most countries, especially those in Africa, high-speed railways can become an economic burden.

Also, China needs to delicately select routes to build railways in Africa; it has to conduct (or help conduct) a thorough study on whether a railway line will really boost the economy before embarking on its construction. It should, therefore, concentrate on building railways where there is ample need for freight transport, like concentrated plantations or mining sites, to ensure that they run on profits instead of subsidies.

Only in this way can railways built by China benefit African countries in a sustainable way.

Zhao Jian is a professor of transportation economics at Beijing Jiaotong University. The article is an excerpt of his interview with China Daily's Zhang Zhouxiang.

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