Developmental Railpolitics: The Political Economy of China's High-Speed Rail Projects in Thailand and Indonesia
- Contemporary Southeast Asia: A Journal of International and Strategic Affairs
- ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute
- Volume 40, Number 3, December 2018
- pp. 503-526
- Additional Information
Developmental railpolitics advances Chinese geostrategic ambitions without the overt opprobrium commonly generated by such issues as China's militarization of the South China Sea, military modernization, border conflicts and trade disputes. This article examines the implications of planned Chinese high-speed rail (HSR) investments in Thailand and Indonesia. The HSR project in Thailand represents an important advance in China's geopolitical influence through the larger design of the Singapore–Kunming Rail Link (SKRL), while the one in Indonesia is aimed at forging better economic ties with the largest country in Southeast Asia. It also assesses the room for political manoeuvre by those two countries vis-à-vis China's developmental railpolitics. Thailand considers the Chinese HSR project as only its first step to achieve its ambitious goal of becoming a land transportation hub in Indochina. Moreover, the Kingdom is still practising a strategy of balancing foreign powers. The HSR project in Indonesia also reflects changing political considerations on contracting foreign partners to build infrastructure. The conclusions suggest that China can be outmanoeuvred in railway bargaining by the recipient states, depending on geopolitical positioning and the nature of their domestic political and economic conditions.