Why the express rail link is a Trojan Horse

March 15, 2016 13:47
The express rail link, with all its adverse political implications like having mainland law enforcers posted in Hong Kong, is just like a Trojan Horse. Photos: RTHK, ancientvine.com

Beijing has made public its plan to build a giant tunnel across the Taiwan Strait for an express rail link between Beijing and Taipei.

Observers believe the proposed project would allow the People’s Liberation Army to seize the island a lot easier.

The cross-strait rail link is among the key projects under China’s 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020).

Taiwan people had never heard of the plan until Beijing announced it.

Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council told the island’s lawmakers that the project was “something impossible” to happen, and Premier Chang San-cheng (張善政) issued a verbal protest to Beijing for not notifying Taipei beforehand.

But mainland cadres, including Wang Mengshu (王夢恕), one of the country's top railway engineers, said the two sides had been discussing the plan for a decade and that Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was aware of, and possibly facilitating, the proposal.

According to Beijing, the mega project involves the construction of a 122-kilometer tunnel spanning the strait, and linking Fuzhou (福州), the capital of Fujian (福建) province, with Taiwan’s Hsinchu (新竹) County.

We have reasons to conclude that the ultra-long tunnel will give the Chinese military a shortcut to the island to deploy tens of thousands of soldiers if they can control the Hsinchu exit for just a couple of hours. Taipei is just some 80 kilometers north of the beachhead.

Beijing wants the tunnel to be up and running in five years.

In an editorial, China's state-run Global Times branded Taiwanese opposing the project as “cowards” and said the rail link has effectively frightened them to “urinate”.

Many Hongkongers are also frightened.

The HK$19.6 billion additional funding for the city's own Express Rail Link is no big deal after the disputed voting at the Legislative Council last Friday, but what makes us wary is Beijing’s thinly veiled warning.

Wang was quoted as saying that the central authorities would never allow the construction of the rail link to Guangzhou and Shenzhen to be halted, adding that the Hong Kong side has no say in the fate of the project.

He said the mainland can even help foot the bill for cost overruns, which he said is “a paltry amount” compared to China’s annual budget of 800 billion yuan for rail projects this year.

The Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong rail link is of little military significance as Chinese troops are already posted in the territory and reinforcements can easily come in from across the border.

The project aims to serve a political purpose.

Seoul and Tokyo once discussed a tunnel to bridge the Tsushima Strait but Koreans scrapped the project for fear that Japan might extend its economic clout across the narrow waters and undermine their own interests.

Moscow also broached a tunnel linking its Sakhalin island with Japan’s Hokkaido prefecture but was rebuffed by Tokyo as Sakhalin was once under Japanese control until it was lost to the Soviet Union after World War II.

Mega transport projects between two jurisdictions always entail a raft of intricately-related political facts. Beijing likes to tell Hongkongers not to politicize everything yet every one of its own initiatives has a political agenda.

Hong Kong’s still unfolding infrastructure fiasco may serve as a warning to Taiwan.

The express rail link to China is not just a hugely expensive white elephant, it’s indeed Beijing’s Trojan Horse.

“When China prospers, Hong Kong prospers as well.” That’s a phrase Tung Chee-hwa has repeated ad nauseam.

Indeed, the mainland economy was humming during Tung's reign as chief executive, and China at the time adopted a relatively lax political stance toward Hong Kong.

But now exactly the opposite is true: When China tumbles, Hong Kong tumbles as well.

Moody’s suddenly downgraded Hong Kong’s credit outlook to “negative”, citing Hong Kong’s vulnerability to mainland economic upheavals and political meddling, like the 2014 white paper that distorted the “one country, two systems” principle.

Moody’s was on a solid footing when it issued the downgrade. All signs, from mounting debts to shrinking foreign reserves, present a gloomy picture for the Chinese economy.

It’s doubtful if Beijing still has enough ammunition in store – given its rocketing bad loans and fleeing capital - to fight the downturn and restore market confidence.

Many Hongkongers see eye to eye with the rating agency but the SAR government rushed to follow Beijing’s rhetoric, lambasting the move as “purely speculative and subjective without any ground”.

Now we know that when Beijing cadres lie, their Hong Kong stooges lie as well.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 14.

Translation by Frank Chen

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Former full-time member of the Hong Kong Government’s Central Policy Unit, former editor-in-chief of the Hong Kong Economic Journal