Has China become the world standard for infrastructure?

As China builds into the future, its recent modernizations in infrastructure have far exceeded the rest of the world – including the United States

In the past few decades, China has modernized at unprecedented levels. Coming from a famine-stricken third-world country in the 1960s to becoming the world’s largest economy and most foreign-invested nation in the world, it’s no surprise that China leads the world in infrastructure development as well.

Starting planning in the 1990s and officially opening in 2008, China’s high-speed rail system was originally modeled after Japan’s Shinkansen System, the first railway running at a speed of 217 miles per hour along a 73-mile route from Beijing to Tianjin. About 13 years later, China has roughly 22,000 miles of high-speed rail. On average, these high-speed rail trains travel at a speed of around 220 miles per hour. The United has no true high-speed rail unless we count the 34 miles of Amtrak’s Acela Line in the Northeast Corridor. The Acela train reaches a maximum speed of 150 miles per hour in this 34-mile section, and the average speed between New York and Boston is around 65 miles per hour. 

Shenzhen’s bus fleet, which has been entirely electric since 2017

Despite its recent inception, China currently has around of the world’s high-speed rail. China also has the world’s fastest commercially operating train––the Shanghai Maglev, which runs at around 270 miles per hour. While China already leads the world when it comes to locomotive transportation, it has no plans to stop innovating: a new Maglev line, expected to travel at a speed of 372 miles per hour, is set to go under commercial construction this year and will run from Beijing to Shanghai.

China’s Maglev train prototype at its testing site

China’s rapid infrastructure development extends far beyond high-speed rail and has consistently innovated. This modernization in recent decades has led to the evolving skylines of China’s cities. Out of the 20 tallest buildings on Earth, half of them belong to China, including the second tallest building on the planet: the Shanghai Tower. In addition, 9 out of the 10 Chinese buildings were completed in the past decade. In 2018, China built seven times as many skyscrapers as the United States.

During China’s rapid expansion in railway systems and skyscrapers, China has also constructed subway systems, bridges, airports, and more at record-breaking speeds and scales. China is the world’s largest investor in infrastructure, spending an average of 8.5% of its GDP on infrastructure from 1992 to 2019. However, it makes sense that China is beginning to invest so much in infrastructure.

Despite thousands of years of Chinese history, the People’s Republic of China is only about 70 years old. With China’s recent economic growth, the country now has the resources to sustain its population of 1.4 billion people at higher living standards. Infrastructure remains a priority of the Chinese government, which says it will not only “boost consumption and benefit the people but also facilitate structural adjustments and enhance the sustainability of growth,” as stated in the 2020 National People’s Congress Work Report. For the future, China plans to spend 1.6 trillion dollars through 2025 to develop futuristic infrastructure including the 5G network and charging stations for electric vehicles. However, this plan will only account for around 10% of China’s social infrastructure investment in the next five years. Guangzhou province alone plans to spend 1 trillion dollars on these projects, including extensive testing of fuel cell vehicles and investment into electric transportation.

– Lucas Liu

Image Sources

  1. https://www.scmp.com/news/china/science/article/3096803/china-set-step-testing-countrys-fastest-ever-maglev-train-top
  2. https://wonderfulengineering.com/fleet-16000-electric-buses-revealed-shenzhen/