The first high-speed railway connecting a Chinese city on the China-Vietnam border with the nation’s national network began operations on Wednesday, underlining Beijing’s efforts to deepen trade and investment cooperation with its Southeast Asian neighbours.
The 47km (29.2-mile) Fangdong Railway links the cities of Fangchenggang – which has the biggest seaport in western China and is a major gateway to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) – and Dongxing in the southern Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region via the coastline of the Beibu Gulf, which is also known as the Gulf of Tonkin.
Dongxing sits across the Beilun River from the northern Vietnamese city of Mong Cai.

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“After the Fangdong Railway was put into operation, the structure of the road network in the Beibu Gulf economic zone has been further improved,” the China State Railway Group said.
“It is of great significance for facilitating the travel of people along the route, boosting border tourism and economic and trade exchanges, and promoting infrastructure connectivity for the Belt and Road Initiative.”
The dual-purpose line, which can handle both passengers and freight, has a maximum speed of 200km/h (124mph).
Having overcome various geological and environmental challenges during four years of construction, the line has reduced the travel time between Fangchenggang and Dongxing from one hour to 19 minutes, according to the Nanning branch of the China State Railway Group.

The launch of the Fangdong Railway comes after China and Vietnam announced closer cooperation on cross-border rail development during a state visit by President Xi Jinping to Hanoi earlier this month.
A joint statement released during the visit mentioned the 392km (244-mile) Lao Cai-Hanoi–Haiphong standard-gauge railway project that, once constructed, could effectively connect the two countries’ railway networks.
Currently, trains cannot run through the border due to different gauges adopted by the two countries.

But despite having appeared in every diplomatic declaration between Beijing and Hanoi in the past eight years, the Lao Cai-Hanoi–Haiphong railway project has remained on the drawing board due to Vietnam’s concerns over costs, anti-China sentiment and broader geopolitical factors.
China has been ramping up the construction of rail links and infrastructure projects around the Beibu Gulf in recent years in an effort to boost trade and logistics passage bridging hinterland provinces in southwestern China with the Asean bloc, which is its largest trading partner.
Exports to the Asean region topped US$473 billion in the first 11 months of the year, while imports from the 10-nation bloc stood at US$352 billion during the same period, Chinese customs figures showed.