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Topic : China’s Ambitions for Pan-Asian Rail Network
GS-2 Mains  : IR

China’s Ambitions for Pan-Asian Rail Network

In News

  • China is looking to connect Malaysia’s East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) with Laos and Thailand’s railway networks.

ECRL Project

  • 665-km railway project in Malaysia connecting Kota Bharu on the east coast to Port Klang on the west coast.
  • Seen as a major economic cooperation project between China and Malaysia.
  • Part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
  • Will link cities, upgrade public transportation, and is expected to be completed by 2027.
  • Faced funding issues and political obstacles before a renegotiated deal in 2020.

China’s Pan-Asian Rail Network ambitions

  • China plans a comprehensive rail network across Southeast Asia as part of BRI.
  • Routes include western, central, and eastern lines connecting China with Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Malaysia.
  • Aims to enhance regional connectivity and economic ties.
  • Challenges include varying rail track widths, cost concerns, and project delays.
  • As of 2021, only the Laos-China section is operational.
  • Projects in Thailand face delays due to cost scrutiny and concerns over Chinese involvement.


  • China has strong geographic, economic, and cultural ties in Southeast Asia.
  • ECRL and the broader network highlight China’s regional ambitions.
  • BRI reflects China’s strategy to extend influence through infrastructure investment.


  • Financial sustainability, economic benefits, technological compatibility, and geopolitical tensions are challenges.
  • Some rail projects are criticized as “debt-trap diplomacy” burdening developing countries with unsustainable debt.

India’s Interests

  • BRI allows China to expand influence in India’s neighborhood.
  • BRI projects raise concerns about debt distress for developing countries.
  • Increased Chinese presence in ASEAN can impact India’s economic interests and relationships with ASEAN countries.
  • CPEC brings China closer to the Indian border in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) and Sir Creek area.

Way Forward for India

  • Leverage India’s soft power through cultural and religious ties.
  • Maintain a working relationship with China while taking a firm stance on BRI and border issues.
  • Continue cooperation with Quad and strengthen relations with Russia for Eurasian projects.
  • Expeditiously implement India’s Act East policy.

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