China wants to build thousands of miles of high speed rail and cargo rail track that will loop through Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia and head south to Singapore as part of a grand trans-Asian rail accord signed by nearly 20 Asian countries in 2006.
When the people of the mainland [southeast asian] countries soon find through the convenience of high-speed rail that Kunming is their closest neighbor but a few hours away, the Yunnan capital will eventually become, in effect, the capital of mainland Southeast Asia,” said Geoff Wade, a visiting fellow at the College of Asia and the Pacific at the Australian National University.
The gravitational pull of Southeast Asia toward China through its well-developed and relatively inexpensive high-speed rail technology was almost inevitable, despite opposition in some places, Mr. Wade said.
The fear of Chinese domination [in Myanmar] is pervasive. “The China railway project is a national security issue,” said U Than Htut Aung, the chief executive of Eleven Media, a group that publishes newspapers that have campaigned against the project. “Through the Sino-Myanmar railway, China can easily access the Indian Ocean, and Myanmar’s security would be threatened. Because of the rail, Myanmar could become a second Crimea.”
Japan, concerned about the economic strength of its archrival, China, across Southeast Asia, is presenting itself as an alternative benefactor. It has increased its investment in the region and targeted Myanmar with its largess, particularly in the rail projects that are so dear to China.
So confident is China that Myanmar will eventually sign up for the project, plans are going ahead to gouge an 18-mile rail tunnel out of the rugged Gaoligong Mountains that straddle the border with Myanmar and serve as the entry point to Yunnan Province and Kunming.
The engineering challenge of constructing the tunnel through the mountain range is similar to building on the permafrost in Tibet, said Wang Mengshu, a tunnel expert at the Chinese Academy of Engineering.
Conduit for low cost chinese goods, Chinese tourists and for China buying Commodities
Myanmar will inevitably come to its senses and agree to the Chinese railway, said Zhu Zhenming, a professor at the Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences, and an expert on Southeast Asia, for the simple reason that it will serve as a conduit for even more Chinese goods on the Myanmar market.
“Poorer people cannot buy American goods, or Japanese goods,” he said. “Chinese goods are cheaper.”
CLSA, Asia’s leading and longest-running independent brokerage and investment group estimates that by 2020 outbound mainland tourist numbers will reach 200 million, double the 100 million who left China in 2013, and tourist spend will triple.
Fuelled by a fast-growing monied middle class eager to experience new destinations, travel is one of the top aspirations for China’s Billion Boomer* generation. The key driver is US$8,000 per-capita GDP as well as more annual leave, visa relaxation, worsening mainland pollution, and an increasingly overloaded domestic tourism infrastructure.
Hong Kong and Macau should continue to be the top international travel destinations but visitor numbers are estimated to decline from 62% to 45% of total outbound Chinese tourists as holidaymakers seek more exotic destinations.
The USA and France received 1.5 and 1.3 million mainland Chinese visitors respectively in 2012, the largest number on record. Survey respondents site both countries as their dream destinations and CLSA expects travel numbers to reach 5.7 million to the US and 3.9 million to France by 2020.
The cost of long-haul travel and limited annual leave will ensure Asian countries continue to benefit the most from mainland tourism growth. Survey respondents who plan to travel stated, in order of preference, Thailand, Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore as their top destinations in the next three years.
While sightseeing, experiencing different cultures and relaxing are the top three reasons to travel; shopping remains an important component of the travel itinerary. Local specialties, skincare/makeup/perfume and apparel are the most purchased items with 80% of tourists buying from local specialty shops and close to 60% at downtown or airport duty free stores.