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VOA Asia Weekly: Indonesia Launches Long-Delayed China-Backed High-Speed Railway

VOA Asia Weekly: Indonesia Launches Long-Delayed China-Backed High-Speed Railway
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South Korea’s plan to resume border surveillance of North. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s visit to Asia. Deadly earthquake in western Afghanistan. BLACKPINK’s Jennie's new solo single tops Billboard poll.

Indonesia assesses whether its long-delayed Chinese-backed high-speed railway will be worth the cost.

Welcome to VOA Asia Weekly. I'm Chris Casquejo in Washington. That story is just ahead, but first, making headlines:

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday during a visit to Israel that the country had the "right" and the "obligation" to defend itself after the Hamas attack. China called for an immediate ceasefire on Wednesday in the conflict without naming the militant group. This came four days after the attack on Gaza.

South Korea’s defense minister said Tuesday that he would pause a 2018 inter-Korean military agreement in order to resume frontline surveillance on rival North Korea. The surprise attack on Israel by Hamas militants raised concerns in Seoul about the possibility of similar assaults by the North.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer cut short his Asia trip to return to the U.S. on Thursday in response to the attack in Israel. During his visit, Schumer met with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Chinese President Xi Jinping. The bipartisan congressional visit to China aimed at stabilizing ties over trade, Taiwan, and other issues. This was the first visit by US lawmakers since 2019.

Another strong earthquake shook part of western Afghanistan on Wednesday where a quake on Saturday killed more than 2,000 people. The 6.3-magnitude earthquake on Wednesday morning was about 28 kilometers, or 17 miles, outside Herat, the capital of Herat province.

As Indonesia celebrates the launch of its first high-speed railway, the government is dealing with cost overruns and Chinese bank loans with high interest rates. In Jakarta, VOA’s Devianti Faridz has the story.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo launched Southeast Asia’s first high-speed railway, branded as “Whoosh,” on October 2 in Jakarta.

The railway is a joint venture between an Indonesian consortium of four state-owned companies and a Chinese consortium of 6 state-owned companies, including China Railway International Corporation.

“This high-speed railway marks the modernization of our mass transportation, which is more efficient, environmentally friendly and integrated with other modes of transport.”

The bullet train serves the popular route between the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, and Bandung, West Java. Traveling at top speeds of 350-kilometers per hour, it stops just outside Bandung, cutting the usual 3-hour rail journey to 45 minutes.

“To be honest, this train is so fast. While it may not take you to Bandung itself, it reaches Padalarang, on the outskirts.”

The project was projected to cost 5.5 billion U.S. dollars and open in 2019.

But costs mounted to 7.3 billion U.S. dollars, says Luhut Pandjaitan, Indonesia’s Minister of Maritime Affairs and Investment.

“We faced numerous problems and hurdles, from land acquisition, lack of coordination, and financial problems due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Indonesia agreed to seek additional loans of 550 million US dollars from the China Development Bank, but at higher interest rates.

Indonesia is now seeking to negotiate with China Development Bank to bring down the interest rates.

“China requested the government provide loan guarantees directly from the state budget. Even worse, China did not request this at the beginning, but now they have demanded it. What do you call it, if not China’s debt trap?“

To make high-speed rail economically viable in the long run, Indonesia plans to extend the railway to Surabaya, on the opposite end of the island of Java, and has started its feasibility study.

Devianti Faridz, VOA News, Jakarta.

Visit for the most up-to-date stories.

I’m Chris Casquejo.

And now, “BLACKPINK in your area.”

Finally, a new solo single by Jennie of BLACKPINK was chosen as the favorite new music release of the week in a Billboard poll.

‘You & Me’ is Jennie’s first release since she made her solo debut in 2018. The song is billed as a ‘special’ single.

Thanks for watching VOA Asia Weekly.