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posted by LaminatorX on Wednesday January 14 2015, @12:25PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the look-upon-my-works-ye-mighty dept.

David Barboza has an interesting article in the NYT about China's engineering megaprojects like the world’s longest underwater tunnel that will run twice the length of the one under the English Channel, and bore deep into one of Asia’s active earthquake zones, creating a rail link between two northern port cities, Dalian and Yantai. Throughout China, equally ambitious projects with multibillion-dollar price tags are already underway. The world’s largest bridge. The biggest airport. The longest gas pipeline. Such enormous infrastructure projects are a Chinese tradition. From the Great Wall to the Grand Canal and the Three Gorges Dam, this nation for centuries has used colossal public-works projects to showcase its engineering prowess and project its economic might. In November, for example, the powerful National Development and Reform Commission approved plans to spend nearly $115 billion on 21 supersize infrastructure projects, including new airports and high-speed rail lines. “Clearly, China’s cost advantages are going to shrink somewhat over the longer-term and prices for projects are only going to rise," says Victor Chuan Chen. "I think the government has done an admirable job in getting many of these projects off the ground while the economics were still very favorable.” China is pushing the boundaries of infrastructure-building, with ever bolder proposals. The Dalian tunnel looks small compared with the latest idea to build an “international railway” that would link China to the United States by burrowing under the Bering Strait and creating a tunnel between Russia and Alaska.

But whether China really needs this much big infrastructure — or can even afford it — is a contentious issue. Some economists worry that China might eventually be mired in enormous debt (PDF) and many experts say such projects also exact a heavy toll on local communities and the environment, as builders displace people, clear forests, reroute rivers and erect dams. “It makes sense to accelerate infrastructure spending during a downturn, when capital and labor are underemployed,” says David Dollar. But “if the growth rate is propped up through building unnecessary infrastructure, eventually there could be a sharp slowdown that reveals that the infrastructure was really not needed at all.”

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  • (Score: 1) by WillAdams on Wednesday January 14 2015, @12:33PM

    by WillAdams (1424) on Wednesday January 14 2015, @12:33PM (#134713)

    I thought it was great when they first announced a plan to build a city using the ideas from the book _Cradle to Cradle_. Unfortunately, a few short years later:

    http://e360.yale.edu/feature/chinas_grand_plans_for_eco-cities_now_lie_abandoned/2138/ [yale.edu]

    • (Score: 2) by CoolHand on Wednesday January 14 2015, @01:50PM

      by CoolHand (438) on Wednesday January 14 2015, @01:50PM (#134734) Journal

      I thought it was great when they first announced a plan to build a city using the ideas from the book _Cradle to Cradle_. Unfortunately, a few short years later:

      http://e360.yale.edu/feature/chinas_grand_plans_for_eco-cities_now_lie_abandoned/2138/ [yale.edu] [yale.edu]

      Yeah, your linked article doesn't make it sound very promising that any of these mega projects will come to fruition..

      --
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  • (Score: 2) by kaszz on Wednesday January 14 2015, @12:35PM

    by kaszz (4211) on Wednesday January 14 2015, @12:35PM (#134714) Journal

    Will these projects pay back on a national basis?

    Building connections that aren't used enough is a giant waste.

    • (Score: 2) by VLM on Wednesday January 14 2015, @02:01PM

      by VLM (445) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday January 14 2015, @02:01PM (#134737)

      I believe the goal of the tunnel is PR or practice for building the tunnel to Taiwan.

      "So you won't sign this trade agreement because you think we can't invade, having no real navy, well, take a look at this big ass tunnel and tell me again that we can never send our army to your island"

      • (Score: 2) by Geezer on Wednesday January 14 2015, @02:51PM

        by Geezer (511) on Wednesday January 14 2015, @02:51PM (#134749)

        One 12 Bravo (or equivalent sapper/pioneer trooper) with a 1 kg C4 charge solves the tunnel problem. Cheaper and more fun than a nuclear torpedo.

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 14 2015, @04:49PM

          by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 14 2015, @04:49PM (#134787)

          Fun fact 12B became 21B.

          It actually happened for me somewhere between basic and my first assignment. It threw me off graduating as a 12B and then being told I was actually a 21B.

    • (Score: 2) by bob_super on Wednesday January 14 2015, @04:36PM

      by bob_super (1357) on Wednesday January 14 2015, @04:36PM (#134780)

      Like the CA bullet train, these are long-term investments.
      Properly maintained "big" transport infrastructure is a major need for advanced countries with big populations. The barrel isn't going to stay down very long.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 14 2015, @04:57PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 14 2015, @04:57PM (#134791)

      They've got a lot of money from other countries. And some countries didn't want to sell them valuable stuff (mines, ports, etc).

      So this is one way to invest it. Not all of it will be a good investment but it's still probably better than buying US bonds (the USA has proven itself too willing to create USD).

      They are building a lot of nuclear power stations too. If they don't screw up too badly and the inevitable earthquakes don't become huge nuclear disasters, then the move to nuclear power might be a good thing for China and the rest of the world - otherwise they would still be very reliant on coal (which is very bad for them and bad for everyone else).

      If they figure out how to build cheap and safe (proven to survive earthquakes, Chinese grade maintenance etc) nuclear power stations I'm sure a number of countries would be happy to buy Chinese nuclear power stations. Could be 15-30 years before that happens - depending on when they get big earthquakes near the stations. But they do think a bit more long term.

      The Chinese are already getting contracts to build other stuff like bridges, buildings, train/rail projects.

  • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 14 2015, @01:20PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 14 2015, @01:20PM (#134724)

    when looking from afar everything looks small.
    it is funny how the "west" is still belittling china when not just the amount of people dwarfs us.
    some even go as far and suggests that the chinese were in n.america before columbus and for that matter ignited the renaissance and that da vinci got lots of ideas from little engineering booklets left by chinese sailors visiting medieval europe ...
    anyways the king of england was sleeping in rough sheep wool in probably bed bug invested "suit" whilst even chinese "peasants" got one or two pieces of silk cloth : )
    oh ... and versaille didn't (doesn't) even have a so called "toilet-room" ... just piss behind the curtain, lol.

    • (Score: 2) by VLM on Wednesday January 14 2015, @02:10PM

      by VLM (445) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday January 14 2015, @02:10PM (#134739)

      suggests that the chinese were in n.america before columbus

      I've read about that being discredited via genetic research. At least Chinese as defined now, and Native American descendants currently alive, have little in common beyond the obvious "we all came from Africa originally and China happens to be kinda in between Africa and N.A. along the immigration routes"

      I'm talking about the weird ideas from a couple centuries ago that the native americans are colonies from various historically known Chinese dynasties. Obviously the Aztecs were a rebellious colony from the Chinese Shang dynasty in 1200 BC and all that stuff.

      • (Score: 2) by Thexalon on Wednesday January 14 2015, @03:51PM

        by Thexalon (636) on Wednesday January 14 2015, @03:51PM (#134766)

        There were some less weird ideas involving a major Chinese naval expedition led by Zheng He, that may have created a map of the California coast in the early 1400s. The problem is that nobody has the original map, only a claimed copy of the original made 3 centuries later.

        There's much stronger evidence of a Polynesian expedition that ended up somewhere in Chile, and traded boat-building technology and chickens for sweet potato plants sometime between 700 and 1000 CE: Sweet potatoes didn't exist in Polynesia before that time, chickens didn't exist in the Americas before that time, the culture in that part of Chile built boats that were remarkably similar to a Polynesian design and used a very similar word for it, and the Polynesians were the best ocean navigators in the world at that time.

        The idea that Christopher Columbus was the first non-Native American to set foot in America has been very thoroughly discredited. Even ignoring all the other evidence, there was the whole Vikings-on-Newfoundland thing.

        --
        The inverse of "I told you so" is "Nobody could have predicted"
    • (Score: 2) by tibman on Wednesday January 14 2015, @02:51PM

      by tibman (134) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday January 14 2015, @02:51PM (#134750)

      My guess is the Chinese peasants would rather have a warm and durable sheep skin/wool "suit" and the King of England would rather have silk. So both were poor. I doubt it was rough though, sheep fur is so soft! I'd love a sheep jacket but can't afford the 1,000$ or more price tag : /

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    • (Score: 4, Interesting) by moondrake on Wednesday January 14 2015, @05:33PM

      by moondrake (2658) on Wednesday January 14 2015, @05:33PM (#134799)

      Its silly to generalize these things. Both as a positive and a negative thing. SOME Chinese things are impressive, some are not. Same for things in the West. On the whole, I would say the West still wins out (and I have lived in China for more than 5 years).

      To comment on what you seem to find impressive about China:
      - the amount of people dwarfs us: This is impressive why exactly? If anything, more people equals more problems. Especially if most of those people have a living standard and education that is below standards.
      - China in N. America: Yes. The president of Turkey [bbc.com] claimed that as well. Both claims are not very well supported by evidence. Nations (especially ruled by authoritarian governments, but also others) like to claim they are the best. The Chinese were decent sailors in a certain periods, but so where other peoples in the world, and some of those actually left evidence [wikipedia.org]. See also the mentioned Polynesians by a sibling post.
      - Leonardo da Vinci: there is no evidence to support this. And common sailors rarely dream about helicopters anyway. Some guys in ancient China thought of fancy things (hot air balloons and such), and so did people in Europe.
      - The King of England was sleeping in Wool because it is frigging cold and rainy on the Isles. You'd die in silk. And silk worms do not like it there either. Romans, thousand years earlier had sea-silk [wikipedia.org] (which I could argue is more extravagant than just plain boring Chinese silk) and imported Chinese silk (until they managed to steal the worms). Anyway, silk itself is nothing to be impressed of. It is useful in some climates, especially if you tend to have a lot of silkworms and mulberry trees.
      - Toilets: I recommend you to live in China for a while (especially in a non-expat environment). You'd be surprised how many people seem to lack a "toilet-room" or other behavior that most people here would find uncivilized. This is a cultural thing. The Romans had toilets, but some later cultures may have become a little bit to obsessed with other things (silly clothes) at the expense of hygiene. Hygiene in present day China is *far* below Western standards. Some of that is silly (we like to smell "washed"), but some of that is also problematic.

      This does not mean we should not be impressed by some of their current engineering projects. But also be unsurprised when some of the biggest buildings they build come crashing down, their fancy superfast trains crash, or big dams cause irreparable environmental damage. Sloppy engineering and disregard for safety or the environment. That to, is the Chinese Way.

  • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 14 2015, @03:18PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 14 2015, @03:18PM (#134758)

    building super-tunnels for economic infrastructure in high earthquake zones seems not so wise.

  • (Score: 2) by richtopia on Wednesday January 14 2015, @04:06PM

    by richtopia (3160) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday January 14 2015, @04:06PM (#134772) Homepage Journal

    Specifically:

    Clearly, China’s cost advantages are going to shrink somewhat over the longer-term and prices for projects are only going to rise,

    At the beginning of the 20th century (particularly during the Great Depression), the USA had lots of cheap labour, talent, and little safety/environmental concerns. Projects like the Hoover Dam, Golden Gate Bridge, and the Empire State Building would fit the description of Mega-Project quite well for the era. The USA still has some exciting projects, although often they run over costs and time, which I've heard blamed on the EPA (please don't take this as a negative on the EPA, if anything it is showing the future slow down for these projects in China).

  • (Score: 2) by shortscreen on Wednesday January 14 2015, @06:51PM

    by shortscreen (2252) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday January 14 2015, @06:51PM (#134824) Journal

    If they connect Alaska to Siberia, and connect also Sakhalin and Hokkaido, I will totally drive from New York to Japan.

  • (Score: 3, Informative) by Phoenix666 on Wednesday January 14 2015, @08:53PM

    by Phoenix666 (552) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday January 14 2015, @08:53PM (#134882) Journal

    China has a historical fondness for mega projects. They have multiple uses for Beijing, least of which is usually the practical value of the project itself. One is it an exercise in control. Keep the peasants overawed. Another is to bleed off excess labor. The Great Wall, the Grand Canal, are super great for sopping up masses of underemployed peasants. Mao continued them in modern times with his Great Leap Forward. Another is as a propaganda exercise for foreign consumption.

    The difference between now and then is that at least for the last, we have the means to properly audit and assess the mega projects. When Beijing completed the "Biggest Train Station in the WORLD!!!" in a fraction of the time it should have taken, experts opined it could not have been built without serious shortcuts that would limit its structural viability and endurance; mere months after the ribbon-cutting cracks appeared in the ceiling you could stick your arm through. In other words, the propaganda value of a mega project in China becomes rather limited when others can call bullshit.

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