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

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology 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.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More