Turkey, China mull $35 bln joint high-speed railway project

With the planned connection of the Marmaray project under the Bosporus to the Edirne-Kars high-speed railway line, a train line from China’s easternmost Lianyungang to Spain and England would be completed. (Map: Yunus Emre Hatunoğlu)

April 13, 2012, Friday/ 17:19:00

Among other planned billion-dollar joint projects, Turkish and Chinese officials are now discussing building a high-speed railway line between the westernmost and the easternmost provinces of Turkey, Edirne and Kars, valued at $35 billion.

Turkish and Chinese officials explored a possible deal for the Edirne-Kars project during Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's visit to Beijing last week. The Akşam daily reported on Thursday the details of talks regarding the railway in an interview with Transportation Minister Binali Yıldırım.

Yıldırım was in China to accompany Erdoğan and a large group of businessmen, in the first visit on the prime ministerial level in 27 years to the East Asian country.

Endeavoring to create a market in European countries, China considers Turkey an area to promote itself with large-scale projects. With the planned connection of the Marmaray project under the Bosporus to the Edirne-Kars railway, a train line from China to Spain and England would be completed. This is a major reason behind China's strong interest in Edirne-Kars, eventually aiming to reach Europe via a railway line. İstanbul is currently connected to the European cities of Bucharest and Belgrade with the conventional railway line, the Bosporus-Europe Express. Observers argued this line could also be upgraded to high-speed following possible deals between the governments involved.

“Chinese officials are expecting the details of the Edirne-Kars project to become clearer. Chinese firms asked us whether it would be possible to split the Edirne-Kars high-speed line into separate projects between certain provinces so different contractors could bid for separate tenders. We [the government] are studying the possibility of offering separate tenders instead of asking one single company or venture to build the entire line,” Yıldırım explained.

The minister also indicated both sides discussed other projects in Turkey, including a third bridge over the Bosporus and Kanal İstanbul, during last week's visit in Beijing. “China is seriously interested in Turkish construction projects. The parties will meet in separate visits in the coming weeks to further elaborate on possible deals,” he noted. Turkey expects to attract as much foreign capital as possible for construction projects worth $80 billion for the next decade. Chinese firms that have a great deal of capital -- along with Gulf companies -- are on the Turkish government's radar in this regard. Turkish officials are in close contact with these investors in anticipation of coaxing as many of them as they can to part with their capital in Turkey.

Edirne-Kars, the country's largest railway project ever, was introduced in 2010. The line is designed to pass through 29 provinces, connecting the east and west of Turkey and reducing the duration of travel from the current 36 hours to 12. With the completion of the planned Edirne-Kars line, the total length of high-speed rail inside Turkey is expected to reach 10,000 kilometers by 2023. Under an agreement signed between China and Turkey in October 2010, China agreed to extend loans of $30 billion for the planned rail network. The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) railway connecting Azerbaijan's capital city of Baku to Kars, currently under construction, increases the strategic importance of the Edirne-Kars line.

Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan, who also participated in last week's China visit, on Thursday said in a written statement that he met with 27 of China's largest companies and that all of them expressed interest in projects in Turkey. “The executives of 27 Chinese firms with a total turnover of $465 billion said they would like to benefit from recently introduced government incentives for new investments in Turkey,” Çağlayan's statement read. Meanwhile, speaking to reporters in Beijing last week, Turkey's national flag carrier Turkish Airlines (THY) CEO Temel Kotil said Chinese involvement is also possible for a planned third airport in İstanbul. “The planned airport will have an annual passenger capacity of 120 million, making İstanbul the largest air travel hub in Europe, outpacing the 90-million passenger capacity of Frankfurt.

Three scenarios for Turkey's second nuke plant

In separate comments on Turkish-Chinese partnerships in new projects, Energy and Natural Resources Minister Taner Yıldız said on Friday in Ankara Turkey would hold official talks on construction of a nuclear power plant with Japan, South Korea and China.

Although he defined his visit to China as “fruitful,” Yıldız did not rule out the possibility of Japan or South Korea winning a tender for construction of a second nuclear plant. Turkey plans to build two power plants, one in Akkuyu on the Mediterranean coast and another in Sinop on the Black Sea coast. It made an agreement with a consortium led by state-controlled Russian builder Atomstroyexport to build Akkuyu. "We prefer the bidder country that offers the best deal," Yıldız said. He added officials from his ministry would visit China in the coming week to discuss details, adding that the nuclear power plant would be built in line with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and EU standards.

Meanwhile, Yıldız said the government agreed to establish a new electricity generation plant in the Southeast, planning to sell electricity to Iraq's northern cities. “They will in return send us natural gas,” he noted. The minister did not give a specific timeline for the new plan.

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