More than 1,300 journalists have already registered to cover the Group of Twenty summit to be held on November 15 and 16 in Bali.
The pre-summit buzz seems to be focusing on such questions as: Will US President Joe Biden attend? If he does, will he meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin? If they meet, will Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky be invited to sit in? If so, will there be any substantive outcome? So on and so forth.
The Western media missed mentioning an unprecedented event that will take place at the G20. Indonesian President Joko Widodo, widely known as Jokowi, will be taking his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping for a ride on Indonesia’s first bullet train.
Taking Xi for a ride
The short ride around Bandung in West Java will be a test run at a more leisurely pace than the train’s designed speed of 350km/h. Full commercial operation after the shakedown of the high-speed railway (HSR) is expected to begin in June 2023.
By then, the travel time from Jakarta, the national capital, to Bandung, the capital of West Java, will shorten from more than three hours to 40 minutes. The 142.5-kilometer linkage is the first phase. The second phase at a distance of 520km will extend the HSR from Bandung to Surabaya and will begin later in 2023.
When completed, the HSR will in essence run the length of Java, the most populated island of Indonesia. Kereta Cepat Indonesia China will own and operate the HSR. KCIC is a joint venture, 60% owned by Indonesia and 40% by China.
In 2008, Japan first proposed the high-speed rail project connecting Jakarta to Surabaya. After a lot of back-and-forth wrestling over the required financial investment, Indonesia finally decided to take a serious look at the project in 2015. To Japan’s surprise, out of the blue, China submitted the winning bid.
Since the global financial crisis of 2008, China had been busy investing in infrastructure. By 2015, China had become the owner of the world’s largest network of high-speed railways.
China used its experience and, ahem, track record to qualify for the Indonesia bid. Widodo went to Japan and China to compare the two HSR systems for himself.
Not only has China’s system exceeded Japan’s Shinkansen in performance, but China’s proposal included technology transfer and willingness to assume of cost overruns. Japan would not commit to either.
China ready to build HSR anywhere
Taiwan-based commentator Lai Yueqian (赖岳谦) has explained why this G20 showcasing is a highly significant development. The test ride is Beijing’s way of announcing to the world that China is ready to market and build HSR anywhere in the world and Indonesia is China’s partner in this venture.
Lai has advanced degrees in international relations from France. He foresees that the KCIC-owned HSR could extend north from Jakarta to Singapore, through Malaysia and Thailand into China and link up with China’s own HSR to become part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to Central Asia and beyond.
G20 members account for 85% of the world’s gross domestic product, 75% of international trade and two-thirds of the world’s population. There is no more ideal venue than the leaders’ summit for the host country, Indonesia, and China to unveil their intentions to contribute to global trade by building transportation infrastructure around the world.
When China first began to consider building an HSR network to cover its vast territory, it approached Japan and France and proposed a 50/50 joint venture that would include their technical assistance. Those two countries had been up to then the only sources of HSR technology.
Both refused the deal that would include technology transfer and both assumed that China could not go it alone. Instead, China has since built HSR through mountains, deserts, over open waters, high altitudes and permafrost and proves that it can go anywhere.
The railcars are being supplied by China Railway Rolling Stock Corporation (CRRC) in adherence to their specifications for the Fuxing railcars; Fuxing represents China’s highest level of HSR technology.
China to share HSR technology
These cars feature advanced smart technology, safety protocols, and strong environmental adaptability. Called electric multiple units (EMUs), the cars are equipped with 2,500 monitoring points for timely detection, early warning and diagnoses of all key systems.
As reported by Straits Times, “The Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway will enrich the development of infrastructure facilities and generate fresh growth points in both the services sector and trade in services in Indonesia and Southeast Asia.”
The Biden administration and cohorts in Washington favoring confrontation with China are likely to be oblivious to the implications of China’s success in HSR.
Earlier this month, I suggested that sanctions on sales of semiconductor devices and equipment to China is rule-based disorder. Since then, Biden has doubled down and imposed virtually a total ban on semiconductor trade with China.
Speculations are rife in Taiwan that should China decide to invade the island in response to the American chokehold, the US military has contingency plans to hustle key technical and management staff of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) on to a plane and fly them out to Arizona. Mind you, this is based on American assumptions, not on any evidence of China’s actual intentions.
In effect, Biden’s chip ban will disrupt and damage a safe, secure and booming global semiconductor industry and turn it into tatters and pieces.
American producers from process equipment to design software systems to advanced devices will all suffer drastic reduction in revenue and potentially fatal loss of funds to develop the next generation of advances.
As with HSR, China will eventually succeed in circumventing America’s ban on semiconductor trade. Then Washington will experience a “see I told you so,” self-fulfilling confirmation that China poses a threat to America’s security.
In the meantime, Saudi Arabia has told Biden to “get lost” by cutting oil production instead of increasing output as he requested. Biden’s diplomatic response is to decide which cudgel to use on the Saudis. Talk about how to lose friends and piss off people.
The United Arab Emirates has also followed Saudi Arabia’s footsteps by becoming China’s second-largest (after Saudi) economic partner in the Middle East. China’s COSCO Shipping has chosen Khalifa Port in Abu Dhabi as the base of its Middle East operations.
Everybody in the world, except the Americans, seems to understand that bilateral trade builds and strengthens bilateral relations. Disrupt trade and those relations start to drift.
CRRC is the company, I reported more than three years ago, that set up assembly facilities outside of Chicago and Boston to replace outdated subway cars with new, state-of-the-art cars at a cost 20% lower than competitive bids and containing more than 60% made-in-America content.
The first delivery was met with rave reviews and praise as an outstanding case of win-win success. Thus encouraged, the Chinese company started to make plans to study the feasibility of replacing the subway cars in New York and Washington, DC.
That was when the wise old folks in Congress, such as the Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, put a kibosh on the process. Senator Schumer raised the alarm that subway cars are perfect for Beijing to use for spying on the American commuters.
Thus, today New Yorkers continue to ride on the noisy, dilapidated, rocking and rolling, more than century-old subway cars, secure in knowing that no one is going to spy on them. By golly.
At this point, all Washington seems to know is to take cheap shots at China, denigrate beneficial projects around the world, and obstruct China’s progress wherever possible. The rest of the world is increasingly skeptical and unsure that following the US is in their best interest.
George Koo retired from a global advisory services firm where he advised clients on their China strategies and business operations. Educated at MIT, Stevens Institute and Santa Clara University, he is the founder and former managing director of International Strategic Alliances. He is currently a board member of Freschfield’s, a novel green building platform.