China’s Silk Road revival hits the buffers

Indonesian models inspect scale models of Chinese-made bullet trains on exhibition at a shopping mall in Jakarta. From a stalled Indonesian rail project to an insurgency threatened economic corridor in Pakistan, China’s push to revive Silk Road trade routes is running into problems. (AFP)
Updated 12 November 2017

China’s Silk Road revival hits the buffers

SINGAPORE: From a stalled Indonesian rail project to an insurgency-threatened economic corridor in Pakistan, China’s push to revive Silk Road trade routes is running into problems that risk tarnishing the economic crown jewel of Xi Jinping’s presidency.
The “One Belt, One Road” initiative, unveiled by Xi in 2013, envisages linking China with Africa, Asia and Europe through a network of ports, railways, roads and industrial parks.
Xi, the most powerful Chinese leader in decades, has pushed the infrastructure drive which is central to his goal of extending Beijing’s economic and geopolitical clout.
The initiative was enshrined in the Communist Party’s constitution at a key congress last month, and some estimates say more than $1 trillion has been pledged to it, with projects proposed in some 65 countries.
But on the ground it has run into problems. Projects traverse insurgency-hit areas, dictatorships and chaotic democracies, and face resistance from both corrupt politicians and local villagers.
“Building infrastructure across countries like this is very complicated,” said Murray Hiebert, from Washington think tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who has studied some of the projects in Southeast Asia.
“You’ve got land issues, you have to hammer out funding agreements, you have to hammer out technological issues.”
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, however, insisted the initiative was “moving forward smoothly.”
Beijing won the contract to build Indonesia’s first high-speed railway in September 2015, but more than two years later work has barely started on the route from Jakarta to the city of Bandung.
A recent visit to Walini, where President Joko Widodo broke ground on the train line in January last year, found excavators flattening land but no track laid for the train, which is meant to start operating in 2019.
“The first year after the ground-breaking ceremony, I did not see any progress at all,” Neng Sri, a 37-year-old food stall owner from nearby Mandala Mukti village, told AFP.
The central problem has been persuading villagers to leave their land on the proposed route, which is often an issue in the chaotic, freewheeling democracy.
The Indonesian transport ministry declined to give an update on the project and the consortium of Chinese and Indonesian companies building the line did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
On another planned high-speed line from southern China to Singapore, the Thai stretch of the railway was delayed by tussles over financing and protective labor regulations, and it was only in July that the military government finally approved $5.2 billion to start construction.
Work is under way on the 415-kilometer (260-mile) part of the line in Laos, a staunch ally of Beijing.
But even there the project has stoked controversy due to its huge price tag — at $5.8 billion, roughly half the country’s 2015 GDP — and the question of how much deeply poor Laos will gain from the project.
There have been concerns in many countries about how much they will benefit from One Belt, One Road initiatives.
Gains for China, such as access to key markets and tackling overcapacity in domestic industries, are often more obvious than those for their partners.
Such worries have bedevilled projects in Central Asia, part of a potential route from western China to Europe.
These include a free trade zone at Horgos on the China-Kazakh border, notable for flashy malls on the Chinese side and relatively little on the Kazakh side, and a planned railway to Uzbekistan that has stalled in large part due to opposition in Kyrgyzstan, through which the line would run.
“I am against this railway as it stands because the financial benefits that could accrue to Kyrgyzstan accrue to (China and Uzbekistan) instead,” said Timur Saralayev, head of the Bishkek-based New Generation movement.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a $54-billion project launched in 2013 linking western China to the Indian Ocean via Pakistan, has been targeted by separatist rebels in Balochistan province, who have blown up gas pipelines and trains and attacked Chinese engineers.
But the Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua insisted the One Belt, One Road initiative enjoyed broad support.
“We have seen more and more support and approval of our projects. Many projects have delivered tangible benefits to the people in these countries,” she said.
The view from the ground, however, is not always so positive.
“The high-speed train... is only for super-busy people who think time is money,” said the villager Sri, who lives next to the Indonesian rail project.
— AFP


Qantas to require COVID-19 vaccine on international flights

Updated 24 November 2020

Qantas to require COVID-19 vaccine on international flights

  • Australian flag carrier would implement the measure once a coronavirus vaccine was made available to the public
  • Qantas has grounded more than 200 planes and fired 8,500 staff as it attempts to offset a $1.9 billion loss caused by the collapse in demand

SYDNEY: International travelers will need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to fly with Australia’s Qantas, the company has said, the first major airline to suggest that such rules could become common across the industry.
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said late Monday the Australian flag carrier would implement the measure once a coronavirus vaccine was made available to the public.
“We are looking at changing our terms and conditions to say for international travelers that we will ask people to have a vaccination before they can get on the aircraft,” he told Channel Nine.
“Whether you need that domestically, we will have to see what happens with COVID-19 in the market but certainly, for international visitors coming out (to Australia) and people leaving the country, we think that is a necessity.”
Joyce predicted the rule would likely become standard practice around the world as governments and airlines currently consider the introduction of electronic vaccination passports.
Another major regional airline, however, said that it was too early to comment on what travel requirements might be when a vaccine becomes widely available.
“We don’t have any concrete plans to announce at this point on the vaccine as it is still in development and will take time to distribute,” a Korean Air representative told AFP.
Vaccination entry requirements are already widely used around the world, with many countries demanding travelers show they have been inoculated against yellow fever if they are coming from regions where that disease is endemic.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced late Monday it was in the “final stages” of developing a digital health pass that it says can be used to record COVID-19 tests or vaccinations and will “support the safe reopening of borders.”
“We are bringing this to market in the coming months to also meet the needs of the various travel bubbles and public health corridors that are starting operation,” IATA director general and CEO Alexandre de Juniac said.
Australia’s borders have effectively been closed since March to curb the spread of the virus, which has already claimed more than a million lives worldwide.
The country has even limited the numbers of its own citizens allowed to return each week, leaving tens of thousands of Australians stranded overseas.
The global airline industry has come under huge pressure from restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Qantas has grounded more than 200 planes and fired 8,500 staff as it attempts to offset a $1.9 billion loss caused by the collapse in demand for air travel.
A slew of other carriers has collapsed because of the pandemic, including Virgin Australia, Chilean-Brazilian airline LATAM and Britain’s Flybe.
The IATA said in October that after a predicted 66 percent drop in global air traffic this year, airlines’ revenues are expected to be down by 46 percent in 2021 compared to 2019.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said Australia is seeking to create “travel bubbles” with other countries that have curbed the spread of the virus.
But the country is unlikely to fully reopen to international travelers until a vaccine is widely available.
The government also signaled in its recently released COVID-19 vaccination policy that Australia and other nations may introduce proof of inoculation as a condition of entry.
Australia has been relatively successful in containing the coronavirus, recording just over 27,800 cases and 907 deaths since the pandemic began.