On The Radar: Indonesia's new railway & the BRI

Recently, Indonesia launched its first high-speed railway

The railway, opened on October 2, connects the capital Jakarta, with Bandung, roughly 140 kilometres away. Whoosh, the name for the Chinese-made bullet train, travels at 350 kilometres an hour and, according to Indonesian officials, will cut down a trip of normally three hours to less than an hour.

The railway project started in 2015 and construction was scheduled to finish in 2019. However, delays piled on: costs ballooned costs, there were issues around land acquisition, and the Covid-19 pandemic slowed construction.

Whoosh is Indonesia’s - and Southeast Asia’s - first high-speed bullet train. The $US7.3 billion project was funded largely by Chinese state-owned firms and was built under China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The BRI is a Chinese infrastructure strategy launched by President Xi Jinping in 2013.

It’s an investment worth billions of dollars and involves massive infrastructure projects that build a “belt” of overland corridors and a “road” of shipping lanes connecting China to countries across Asia, Europe and Africa. 

Since its launch, the BRI has become a dynamic concept and contains more than physical transportation connections like railways and ports – it encompasses bilateral cooperation across trade and policy and investment in sectors ranging from health and technology to telecommunications. 

Read more:

Explainer: The Belt and Road Initiative - Asia Media Centre

In all of this, Southeast Asia has strategic importance for the BRI – the region is where the land ‘Belt’ and sea ‘Road’ converge.

China’s investment in rail has been accelerating. While Indonesia’s new high-speed railway is the first of its kind in Southeast Asia, it’s not the first in the region built under BRI. Earlier this year, the Laos-China railway – largely seen as the “flagship of the Belt and Road Initiative in Southeast Asia” - officially opened.

China is also working with Thailand to build a high-speed railway connecting Bangkok to Kunming in China, through Laos.

The work is due to be finished in 2028. 

There are also ongoing talks between different ASEAN nations – as well as with China – on rail connectivity in the region, stretching from Singapore all the way up to China.

Read more:

Why China is determined to connect Southeast Asia by rail - Nikkei Asia

- Asia Media Centre