In thecontemporary era of international relations earlier dominated by ‘hard power’diplomacy limited to treaties, conventions, and arms control, as means of forgingdiplomatic ties, countries have switched to exploiting the potential of forgingrelations by establishing vast network of roads and railways, in the processstimulating mutual economic gain. Railway diplomacy. The recent inaugurationof the freight train between the United Kingdom and China under China’sBelt and Road Initiative (BRI) initiative and its High – Speed Technologyexport to South – East regions like Indonesia reflect the paradigm shift in itsdiplomatic strategy while spreading its influence over the Eurasian and SouthEastern landmass.Expansionof Chinese Railways to the Central Asian and European regions has facilitateddiversification and strengthening of transport alternatives, but the challengethat persists in its expansion is surrounded with several bottlenecks,especially when we look at the unresolvedterritory disputes, disputes over water sharing or the rivalry amongst itsleaders. Another challenge faced by China is the management of itsstate-owned enterprises, with a great concern related to the rise of anti –Chinese sentiments owing to their misconduct.
In some ways, China’s RailwayDiplomacy remains a rough patch till it ensures the internal security of itsown people and also the political willingness and acceptance by people of thecountries members to its Railway diplomacy.Indiaas well faces a similar situation, when it comes to maintaining a balancedrelation with its neighbours especially Pakistan, hindering the progress ofrailway expansion. Railway as a soft power can be a catalyst in improvingtrade relations between countries and strengthening the country’s internationaleconomy. Chinese Approach to Railway DiplomacyWiththe freight train between China and the United Kingdom, China hopes tostrengthen its ties with the Central Asian and European countries. The freightcorridor is part of President Xi Jinping’s vision to revive the old Silk Route.
The contemporary Silk Route aims at linking the Pacific Ocean to the Baltic Seaas well as East Asia to South and West Asia. This very silk route in the modernday international relations is referred to as the Belt and Road initiative,through which China intends to revive its 2200-year-old trade route, aimed atcreating a mutualunderstanding and strengthening all round exchanges between the members ofthe Belt and Road initiative besides promoting cultural and academic exchanges.The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) will also act as a gateway to promoting bordertrade and tourism between autonomous Tibetan regions and neighbouring countriessuch as Nepal This isnot the first such freight link: China presently operates 1,700 freight trainswith 40,000containers transported by rail between the Chinese mainland and Europe.This is expected to increase further to 100,000 containers by 2020.
China isalso constructing agauge-changing station for the Trans Eurasian Railway, with the capacity tohandle 6 trains at a time. But the larger geopolitical consideration is thepresence of large oiland natural gas reserves, especially in Azerbaijan. China is alsostrengthening its high-speed rail network in Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia,Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Myanmar. China aims to extend itsoperational Qinghai-Tibet Railway up to Rasuwagadhi,located on the Tibet-Nepal Border by 2020 to facilitate quickmobilization of resources to remote Tibetan areas and boost developmentthrough tourism to the monastery town of Shigatse located near Nepal border. Indian Approach to Railway DiplomacyIndianrailway diplomacy, in general, is more culture-oriented than scientific,focusing on people to people exchange promoting peaceful existence with itsneighbours – Pakistan and Bangladesh, when compared to the Chinese form ofrailway diplomacy.
India has had tense relations with Pakistan since 1947. Whileproblems of counterfeit currencies, drug and human trafficking through theporous borders of Bangladesh and possible infiltration by terrorists grapples India,leading to suspension of train services – Samjhauta Express being the mostprominent. India operates two trains to Bangladesh – Maitree Express and Bandhan Express, thus anattempt to build stronger relation with Bangladesh to promote economiccooperation and transportconnectivity through railways. India also operates freight train toBangladesh. Railway diplomacy in the Indian case is driven by the need of aneconomic partnership, which would lend both scientific and economic assistancetill a point of self-sufficiency is reached. India’s limited knowledge andexperience with regard to high-speed train is precisely the reason behind itsgrowing ties with other European powers such as Germany, Switzerland, Spain,and France and recently with Japan.
Growing Need for Railway Diplomacy WhileChinese relations with India being a fragile affair owing to border disputes,is still a necessary evil given India’s ambitious railway university proposaland China’s experience in creating knowledge in the technical, managerial,operational and engineering domains of railways.China’splans of exporting high-speed rail technology to Southeast Asia is driven by itsneed to forge better ties with the Southeast Asia under the Trans-AsianRail Initiative to which 18 countries are partners to building 8699 milesof track resulting in the increasing trade volume, expected to rise to $1trillion USD by 2020 in collaboration with United Nations. China is alsostrengthening its high-speed rail network in Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia,Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Myanmar.China’sambitious high – speed rail linking Myanmar and Kolkata is a gateway to boostingBangladesh – China – India – Myanmar which will generate a potential tradeworth US$132 billion. Besides China’s immense investment in the railway sectorin the domains of education, high – speed rail is a food for thought for Indianpolicymakers to understand the growing significance of railways in not justtechnological upliftment.
But also, towards exerting influence on the worldeconomics through the massive railway network while simultaneously expandingits tradeIndiaon the other hand while having experienced technical collaboration withEuropean and South East Asian powers is not yet developed enough to contributeto the global railway system. Thus, learning lessons from China, India shouldnot just confine opportunities to the working class of the railway fraternity,but should also extend to the general population of the country to identify andexploit the best of talents to catalyse the development of railwayinfrastructure physically and intellectually. ConclusionFromChina’s continued dominance in global railway systems, China also maintains abalance of native culture and infrastructure development. China’s railwayconstruction is driven by its economic and diplomatic needs. This also includestapping of natural resources and expanding its technology and intellectualtransfer. Given favourable economic conditions and human resources, India has agreater chance imbibing a long term sustainable development by imbibing theChinese culture.