World Economy
Build a New China-Russia Railway to Accelerate Eurasian Integration

The expansion of China-Russia practical cooperation is needed now more than ever. The construction of a new China-Russia railway at the border of Xinjiang is a new lever to expand practical cooperation between China and Russia. 

Along the 4,300km border between China and Russia, there are three international railway routes for cargo transportation, Manzhouli –  Zabaikalsky line, Suifenhe – Grodekovo line and Hunchun –  Kamyshovaya line, among which the Manzhouli - Zabaikalsky line and Suifenhe - Grodekovo line account for almost all the transit cargo volume of China-Russia railway. However, there is no railway connection at the 54km junction between Altay Prefecture of Xinjiang in western China and the Altai Republic of Russia, which has become a bottleneck limiting trade and economic cooperation between Russia and China. 

On the Chinese side, the railway network already has been extended to Altay city and only needs another 180km to reach the Russian-Chinese border. The railway port can be located in Jikepulin, Hemu, where the average altitude is 2,500 meters and the terrain is relatively flat, about 50 kilometers from the Russian-Chinese border. 

On the Russian side is the Altai Republic. The city of Biysk lies only 370 kilometers to the south of the Russia-China border and is connected to the Novosibirsk railway to the north. it is situated in the Altai Krai, an important base of commodity grain and animal husbandry in Russia. The neighboring Kemerovo is industrially developed and accounts for more than 50% of Russia's total coal production. 

Technically, the construction of this approximately 550 km railway from Russia's Biysk to China's Altay is not difficult for both countries, which have more than 200,000 km of track.
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If this railway is built successfully, it will have at least three levels of great significance.

First, it will greatly enhance the depth of China-Russia strategic coordination and cooperation as well as the process of Eurasian economic integration. The railway will serve as an important strategic corridor to safeguard and consolidate the security of the industrial and supply chains of both countries.

Second, it will relieve the pressure on the current China-Europe freight trains. The current China-European Liner has tended to saturate, with more than 15,000 trains running in 2021, of which more than 50% are outbound through Xinjiang Horgos and reach Europe via Kazakhstan. The capacity of the existing railway is already large enough to affect further growth, and a new railway is urgently needed to relieve the pressure on Kazakhstan side.

Third, it will significantly promote the regional development of Russia and China. The center of gravity of the Russian economy is in the west of Eurasia, China's economic center of gravity is in the east of Eurasia. The railway will play a role in rebalancing the economic development of both countries. In China, for example, Xinjiang's trade with Russia accounts for only 9% of Russian-Chinese trade. The new China-Russia railway will greatly enhance Xinjiang's position in China's new development landscape.

At present, local authorities and railway companies of both countries are keen to build the new Russian-Chinese railway. According to public press reports, the Russian Railways, the Altai Republic, the Altai Krai, Kemerovo and Siberia are all looking forward to the new railway. China's Xinjiang province has conducted preliminary surveys of both railway alignment and site of the crossing, and found no major technical obstacles to the construction of the project.

The biggest obstacle now lies in the strategic will of the central governments of both countries. Under the pressure of international public opinion and the more pressing work agendas of both central government, it is crucial to upgrade the will of both local governments and businesses to national will.

Another obstacle is environmental impact assessment. If the railway is built, it will pass through the Kanas National Nature Reserve and Altai Nature Reserve. To build the railway would require both countries to amend their respective environmental protection laws, and the construction must affect the environment as little as possible, which is the biggest difficulty.

In fact, the difficulty of building the new China-Russia railway reflects the key difficulties in China-Russia practical strategic cooperation and the process of Eurasian integration. Difficulties do not come from capital, technology, manpower or the will of local governments, but from strategic willpower. 

It is believed that with the joint efforts of the central governments of the two countries, the new China-Russia railway will be launched and officially opened in the near future. Then Eurasian economic cooperation would be a different story.

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