On high-speed rail, EVs, and solar, China is doing truly amazing things.
Not mentioned in the article, especially for the US audience, is that high-speed rail is a much more pleasant way to travel than flying. You can arrive at the high-speed rail station a half-hour before departure (usually via modern, fast, reliable, clean, safe subway system), much simpler security measures, only need your ID for boarding, start up so smooth you hardly know you're moving, smooth ride, comfortable seats, quiet, electrical power at the seat, ability to get up and walk around, no turbulence, wireless connectivity, cheaper (for "economy", and the next tier up is about the same cost as flying), no weather delays. For longer distances flying is faster and common. But for short and intermediate distances, the high-speed rail is the preferred way to travel.
I think it was Freddie DeBoer that recently wrote about how progressive environmental regulation was making it impossible to actually build anything. Noah here has talked about now nonprofits are sopping up large percentages of the money we allocate to new projects and ideas.
In practice, this means that in the time America builds 40 miles of high speed rail track in Nowherev-ille, CA, the Chinese build out hundreds of miles of functional track connecting most of their major cities. (I live CA so am very familiar with the CA High Speed Rail boondoggle.) I don't care what your politics are, whether you're a Bernie-bros, a rabid libertarian, a Amari integralist, a BLM cultural Marxist, or an Amish escapist... everyone must acknowledge that this is a problem.
China has a "screw private property, living wages, human rights, safety, and environmental concerns, and just build the darn thing" approach. We have a "study it to death but for God's sake don't actually do anything" approach. Neither approach is efficient. But if your goal is to create things that might improve quality of life, the former is at least effective.
I wonder if folks understand the implications of China's manufacturing capabilities from both speed and quantity perspectives on defense. The West has struggled to ramp up production for Ukraine and is falling further and further behind China's naval production. Do not some of the same impediments to our inability to build things for the civilian economy mean we are and will struggle mightily vis a vis China if a conflict were to occur. Unlike WW2, we would be the Axis (Germans made the best stuff but not enough of it) and the Chinese the Allies from a production standpoint.
As you point out, rapid resource deployment is no guarantee of capital efficiency. Have you seen good analysis of over-building driven by “the madness of crowds” like 19th century UK and US railroad construction vs “the madness of elites” in overbuilding China’s high-speed rail network?
Internally, for China, it's been a race against time, which so far they are winning handily. The CCP took a big chance in opening up some 30 years ago, and the bet has paid off in ensuring the safety of the party as the sole ruling party -- probably at least for the next generation -- because of this economic success.
Externally, for China, there are still significant challenges ahead, as it moves to establish a stable and secure position in the world. There has been a relatively stable world order since about 1990, which in effect sponsored China's advancement. It's notable, for instance, that China preceded Russia in being accepted into the WTO.
Although "the world order" is not a static "thing," the question for everyone is whether we see China as basically interested in preserving this highly favorable world order, whether we see ourselves (the developed "West") as trusting this continued order as suitable to ourselves, as well as whether the rest of the world also thinks it's a suitable mechanism for their advancement.
Is mostly everybody aware of just how good -- comparatively speaking -- the past 40 years or so have been?
The Chinese high speed train network reaches Vientiane, the capital of Laos and practically on the Thai border. Are there any other plans for high speed trains across the border? To Mongolia and Russia?
What impressed me in Japan was the frequency: every ten minutes from Tokyo southbound! (dense population, sure, but not so different from Italy where it’s once or twice per hour and where you need one line to cover Turin to Naples)
The elephant in the room is the CO2 produced by this Great Leap Forward. China is now the largest emitter with most of its power generated by coal. As EV numbers increase so will CO2. Show us the math and raw numbers in 10 years.
a fantastic post, thank you!
Measuring the profitability of high speed trains makes as much sense as measuring the profitability of interstate highways. It’s just transportation infrastructure, a public good.
"China got Japanese and European companies to hand over their technology in exchange for the unspoken (and ultimately unfulfilled) promise of big Chinese contracts." Translation: China conned Japan and Europe.
A joke among the older adherents to The Republic of China (now based on the island of Taiwan) was that Mau Dz Dung, was really Mau Dzei Dung, *Dzei being translated as *thief. Sidebar: The Yale system of Romanization was designed in part to allow American English speakers to quickly approximate the sounds of Mandarin.
An excellent review of China's development of specific industries. My first question is, "How reliable are the numbers you are quoting?" China has complete control over any numbers published, and it is hard to accept anything from a government that openly steals technology and intellectual property from others. Dictatorships can be very efficient in certain economic areas, but how much in the way of personal freedom are we willing to sacrifice to be more efficient?
You barely mentioned one of our most significant weaknesses - this obsession with quarterly results. Due to this short-sightedness, commercial R&D is down, and much R&D is done by the government. This leads to political in-fighting and a lack of dependable long-term financing. China's economic development has been remarkable, but at what cost to the lives of its citizens?
I almost threw-up in my mouth when I read this line...”China’s solar panel makers were unprofitable and subsidized a decade ago, but now make healthy profits.”
To write this and completely ignore the human rights abuses and slave labor of the ethnic minorities in Xinjiang where almost all of the solar panel supply chain exists is negligent to the nth degree.
In case you need a primer, here you go...https://www.sub-verses.com/p/the-woke-approved-genocide
Yes, China still has a long way to go. Renewables are currently about 28% of electrical generation, and target is 33% by 2025. Over half of all new electrical capacity is renewable, in Q1 of this year, over 80% of new capacity was renewable. Noah is correct that they are installing a lot, and you're correct that they have a long way to go.
Thanks for the new China series. All good for us to know and consider. And thanks for the book recommendations! Keep them coming!
Spot on! For certain this is an article documenting government efficiency and organizational prowess. As beneficial as these factors are in mass manufacturing, it has been noted that these same characteristics can be disastrous when applied to other aspects under government control. The “just take it” attitude is what frightens the world. It’s sad that authoritarian type government goes through these cycles, as Dan previously described.