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.”