China may build an undersea train to America

Screengrab from Sina.com Screengrab of China's proposed global train routes from Sina.com

China is planning to build a train line that would, in theory, connect Beijing to the United States. According to a report in the Beijing Times, citing an expert at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, Chinese officials are considering a route that would start in the country's northeast, thread through eastern Siberia and cross the Bering Strait via a 125-mile long underwater tunnel into Alaska.

"Right now we're already in discussions. Russia has already been thinking about this for many years," says Wang Mengshu, the engineer cited in the article. The proposed "China-Russia-Canada-America" line would be some 8,000 miles long, 1,800 miles longer than the Trans-Siberian railroad. The tunnel that the Chinese would help bore beneath the icy seas would be four times the length of what traverses the English Channel.

That's reason enough to be skeptical of the project, of which there are few details beyond what was attributed to the one official cited by the state-run Beijing Times. Meanwhile, a report in the state-run China Daily insists the country does have the technology and means to complete a construction project of this scale, including another tunnel that would link the Chinese province of Fujian with nearby Taiwan.

In the past half decade or so, China has embarked on an astonishing rail construction spree, laying down tens of thousands of miles tracks and launching myriad high-speed lines. It has signaled its intent to build a "New Silk Road" -- a heavy-duty freight network through Central Asia that would connect with Europe via rail rather than the old caravans that once bridged West and East. A map that appeared on Xinhua's news site outlines the route below, alongside a parallel vision for a "maritime Silk Road."


Screengrab from Xinhuanet.com

While some of its neighbors watch China's rise warily, the main plank of Beijing's soft power pitch has always been its stated desire to improve economic ties and trade with virtually everyone. "China’s wisdom for building an open world economy and open international relations is being drawn on more and more each day," trumpets the Xinhua report that accompanies the map above, according to the Diplomat.

To that end, Beijing has assiduously resurrected the narrative of the ancient Silk Road as well as given prime billing to the tales of China's famed Ming dynasty treasure fleets, which sailed all across the Indian Ocean. Seen in such grand historic perspective, a tunnel to Alaska doesn't seem too far-fetched.

Ishaan Tharoor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. He previously was a senior editor at TIME, based first in Hong Kong and later in New York.

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