News / Asia

Corruption Threatens China's High-Speed Rail Plan

A laborer works at a high-speed railway viaduct construction site in Hefei, Anhui province, China, Jan. 4, 2011.
A laborer works at a high-speed railway viaduct construction site in Hefei, Anhui province, China, Jan. 4, 2011.

China's crackdown on corruption has cast a shadow over the powerful Railways Ministry. Former Railways Minister Liu Zhijun has been fired and there are accusations that more than $100 billion is missing.

The widening probe into graft has raised calls for the government to reconsider its investment in high-speed railways.

China boasts some of the fastest trains in the world and has embarked on an ambitious project to link many cities by high-speed trains.

Modernization

The $274 billion plan is part of an infrastructure policy costing hundreds of billions of dollars. The government aims to build at least 30,000 kilometers of track over the next few years: nearly half of it for high-speed trains.

But the new railways minister, Sheng Guangzu, has had to defend the plan from a barrage of criticism.

Much of it begins with the recent firing of Liu Zhijun, who was the railways minister for eight years. There are accusations that under his administration $121 million was embezzled.

Other railway officials have been fired and detained for corruption.   

At least one proposal to slash the high-speed rail project is to be presented to a top advisory group during the annual session of the National People’s Congress this week.

But the new railways minister says Liu's firing will not affect the plan.

The World Bank's railways expert Richard Bullock, who works with the government on development projects, says Liu's dismissal is unlikely to derail the modernization plans.

But he says Liu’s successor has made significant changes.

"The new minister has put some emphasis on two areas," says Bullock. "They are safety and procurement mechanisms. These are indications in changes of management style."

If the expansion plan is completed, China will have the second-largest rail infrastructure in the world after the United States. But the railways scandal follows questions about the economics of the high-speed project, much of it funded by loans.

Railway expansion criticized

Some critics say the network seems extravagant given China’s vast size and relatively low per capita income. They say to pay back the loans tickets will have to be priced so high they will be out of the reach of most Chinese.

Even the national research institution, the Academy of Science, reported last year that at current investment and estimated passenger numbers, the trains will never collect enough in fares to repay construction loans.

The vast amount of money tied to railway projects, and real estate deals linked to them, has provided ample opportunity for graft.

That has led to fears over the long-term safety of the tracks and other parts of the network.

Endemic graft

Corruption is a significant problem in China, and the communist government has tried to crack down on it. Liu's dismissal is seen as significant as top Communist Party officials are rarely fired for corruption.

Wang Yukai, an anti-corruption expert at the Chinese Academy of Governance,  says Liu's firing shows the government is no longer turning a blind level to corruption in high office.

And he says it's important to give the media, Internet, and the public the power to decipher and understand what goes on in government ministries such as the railways. That, he says, is an important way to solve the problem of corruption, which, Wang points out, is very deep in China.

Past campaigns to weed out corrupt officials have largely been seen to have failed. Premier Wen Jiabao said in his opening speech at the National People’s Congress on Saturday that ridding the country of corruption is a priority, because graft helps foster discontent.

But Liu's firing could act like a double-edged sword. On one side, it indicates that leaders are showing no favor in the latest clean-up campaign. Yet, on the other, it may reinforce to the public the idea that corruption is rife at all official levels.

26-year-old rail passenger Meng Qingyi, who works for a steel company, says it's  a good thing the government has fired some one as high-profile as Liu.

But he hopes the corruption scandal will not derail the high-speed plan because fast trains are important to Chinese like him.

You May Like

Mali's Female Basketball Players Rebound After Islamist Occupation

Islamist extremists ruled northern Mali for most of 2012, imposing strict Sharia law, and now some 18 months later, the region is slowly getting back on its feet More

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

Many Chinese-made products go unsold, for now, with numerous Vietnamese consumers still angry over recent dispute More

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid