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

Video British Fighters on Frontline of Islamic State Information War

It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for Islamic State alongside other foreign jihadists More

Pakistan's Political Turmoil Again Shines Spotlight on Military

Thousands of protesters calling for PM Sharif to step down continue protests in front of parliament, as critics fear political impasse could spur another military coup More

Photogallery Ebola Quarantines Spark Anxiety in Liberian Capital

Food prices rise sharply as residents attempting purchases clash with security forces, leaving one person dead 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.
Native Bees May Help Save Cropsi
X
Deborah Block
August 22, 2014 12:23 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video Native Bees May Help Save Crops

U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video US Defense Officials Plan for Long-Term Strategy to Contain Islamic State

U.S. defense officials say American air strikes in Iraq have helped deter Islamic State militants for the time being, but that a broad international effort is needed to defeat the extremists permanently. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Thursday that the group formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, is better organized, and financially and militarily stronger than any other known terrorist group. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Drug-Resistant Malaria Spreads in Southeast Asia

On Thailand’s border with Myanmar, also known as Burma, a malaria research and treatment clinic is stepping up efforts to eliminate a drug-resistant form of the parasite - before it spreads abroad. Steve Sandford reports from Mae Sot, Thailand.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid