Railway companies in China posted all-time high profits for 2014 following aggressive overseas bidding and a “red-hot” domestic market. Investment in transportation infrastructure has been characteristically aggressive to meet the Chinese government’s efforts to connect the interior with the coast. Six years after China’s first bullet-train line opened between Tianjin and Beijing, 28 of the 31 provinces now have access to bullet trains. Railway enthusiasm is not waning: Government officials plan to spend over 800 billion yuan in domestic railway construction in 2015, with a critical focus on developing central and western parts of the country. Railways facilitate the movement of labor to the coast, promoting migration. It also decreases the time it takes for interior goods to reach the coast. This may allow the concentrated economic zones of the coast to penetrate and develop in the interior, increasing economic opportunities for the historically poorer regions in China.
China’s railway capabilities also have implications abroad. In 2014, Chinese companies secured 348 overseas railway contracts totaling $24.7 billion and physically exported $3.74 billion worth of locomotive equipment. Contracts have targeted emerging markets in Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America and Southeast Asia. Increased railway infrastructure will undoubtedly support their economic development. Using railway investment and other economic tools as a way to project broader political influence seems to be the mantra of China’s foreign policy. It will be interesting to see how key deals with countries such as oil-rich (and unstable) Nigeria will affect China’s global political influence looking into the future.