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The Chinese Rail Web

The following appeared in the “People’s Forum” section of the Chinese Communist Party controlled “People’s Daily Online” on November 19,2010:

Silk Railway, China’s rise in the Middle East and Central Asia?

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Tuesday that the construction of a railway between the Iranian city of Khaf and the Afghan city of Herat was being discussed, according to the Tehran-based Press TV.

The Khaf-Herat railway would serve as an extension to the Silk Road railway network linking Central Asian countries with Europe, Mottaki said.

In 2006, Iran came up with an ambitious plan to construct a railway to connect three Persian-speaking countries – Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan – and this new railway would be connected to the larger network.

Iran started the construction work in 2008 to extend its Khaf-Torbat Heidariyeh Railway, known as the Eastern Civilization Railway, to Herat, a western Afghan city located 125 kilometers away from the Iran-Afghanistan border.

Earlier reports say Beijing plans to build a new rail corridor that will eventually link China to the Mediterranean Sea through Central Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran.

Also according to earlier reports from Iran’s Press TV in August , Iran is negotiating a deal with China to launch a railway project which will link the Iranian capital, Tehran, to northwestern provinces in the country.

The project is estimated to cost between USD 1.5bn and USD 2bn and is expected to be completed within the next 2.5 years,

The railroad is to link Tehran to the cities of Arak, Malayer, Hamedan, Kermanshah and the bordering town of Khosravi.

Iranian officials have announced future plans to expand the railroad westward to Iraq and ultimately to Syria and the Mediterranean littoral states.

However, China’s participation in the construction of railways in the Middle East and Central Asia is interpreted as the rise of China in the Middle East and Central Asia by some western media.

Here is an excerpt of an article from Telegraph:

Nicklas Swanstrom, the executive director of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at Johns Hopkins University, said the contract to build the line was the first step for China to build an entire rail infrastructure for central Asia.

“It makes sense that if you build railways in Iran, you then get deals to stretch the lines into central Asia,” he said, referring to a “very concrete plan” to run a railway from Iran through the landlocked countries of Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and eventually to Kashgar in China, in a modern “silk route”.

That line would give the central Asian states vital access to Iran’s port of Chahbahar on the shores of the Persian Gulf, and could also eventually give China a vital overland freight route to Europe.

“For China, it could cut the cost of transporting goods to Europe by 5pc or 6pc,” said Professor Swanstrom.

“It also makes political sense, because while technically the US, Europe or Russia could block China’s sea routes, it would also have a land route. And by tying your neighbour’s infrastructure to you, it brings them closer,” he added. “It decreases Russia’s influence in the region, and definitely decreases the influence of the US and Europe.”

(Collated by Mr B.Raman, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai and Associate of the Chennai Centre for China Studies.Email:seventypne2@gmail.com)

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