Not content with building massive new dams, railroads, and cities inside its own borders, China is backing hugely ambitious infrastructure projects all over the world. Its latest is a 3,000-mile long railway that will cut through vast swathes of the Amazon rainforest.
The Guardian reports that Chinese premier Li Keqiang will advocate for the railway during his South America trip this week. The line will start in Açu Port in Brazil, curve up to around Bolivia, and end on the west coast of Peru. Along the way, it will cut through swamps, dense forest, and then either desert or mountains before it reaches the coast. This will make it tremendously difficult to build.
China’s grand plan evokes the Trans-Amazonian Highway, a 2,500-mile road built by Brazil in the 1970s. Construction was supremely challenging in the remote forest, and parts of the road remained unpaved for decades. The highway is still not an smooth ride, but a poor road is better than no road when it comes to trans-Amazonian travel.
As you’d expect, there are potentially negative impacts on the environment. Easier passage along the Trans-Amazonian highway has led to more deforestation in Brazil, because vehicles can carry trees out of the jungle more easily. Fears about more environmental plundering surround this trans-Amazonian railway. The major impetus behind this project is trade, because transporting oil, iron ore, and other commodities will become cheaper. China is also backing a transcontinental canal in Nicaragua to open up further trade routes — because why rely on the canal in Panama, a country with close ties to the U.S?
It’s not just South America that China is bringing into its sphere of infrastructure influence. The industrial powerhouse nation is also investing in railways in East Africa, oil projects in Sudan and Niger, and a trans-Asian railway — to name just a few. It’s become a player all over the world, one big infrastructure project at a time.
Top image: Deforestation in Brazil. Pedro Biondi/ABr