I was raised within the Anglosphere, so naturally my preference — and the bias of Traveller — is for a naval ’empire of bases’.
But there is an alternative: instead of ships sailing the black desert of space, you can have wormholes or gateways (orbiting, or ground-based) from one world to another. This is a lot more friendly to land-based empires and their love of long railways… including both the declining land empire of Russia, and the rising land empire of China.
Now, I personally don’t think that China can become a real competitor to the US. Still, they are useful as an alternate model of modern empire-building.
An empire of bases and an empire of railways are grounded in the same thing — cheap transport, easy trade — but feels different.
Transport analyst Dr. Ruth Banomyong thinks the economic benefits of a modern railway network are now too tempting for many poorer Southeast Asian countries to pass up.
“High speed rail is very expensive and none of the countries – Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam, or Cambodia – can really afford one,” Banomyong, who is a professor at Bangkok’s Thammasat University, told DW.
Whenever the Emperor offers a generous, broad-minded Imperial Donation, it pays to sniff out all the strings attached. Not just the troop transport possibilities or the interest on those generous loans, but the maintenance contracts, technology barriers… even the exact identities of those receiving the under-the-table kickbacks.
Not that a poor backward nation/world/pocket empire can afford to be choosy. But, it’s nice to have your eyes wide open before you sign on the dotted line: fewer Unpleasant Surprises or Altered Agreements, and a better chance to head off trouble before it comes to a head.
He added that there is also a question mark over the cost of the proposed route through Thailand, a middle income country. Although the costs for the whole project haven’t been revealed, the Thai section alone is estimated to be worth 20 billion euros ($23 billion.)
Construction has already finished on the Vietnam stretch of the rail link, while work got underway last December to connect landlocked Laos to Kunming.
China is also bidding to build high speed railway lines in India and has proposed a direct rail link to the Iranian capital, Tehran.
The rail route between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur already exists but the contract to upgrade to high-speed lines is expected to be taken by the end of the year. Local media reports suggest that Singapore prefers a Japanese or European bidder but Malaysia favors a Chinese firm.
I admire Singapore’s government — imagine a single high-integrity/high-pop/high-tech/high-law system in a sea of empty voids and low-integrity/high-pop/low-tech/low-law worlds — but I doubt that they will be able to get away from the Big Man of the Neighborhood (sector after sector after sector of low-integrity/high-pop/mid-tech/high-law systems… with an triple-helping of pollution.)
All three powers — Japan, Europe, and China — are aging rapidly: but both Japan and Europe are well along their Inward Turn, while China is still in an expansionist mood. I have no doubt that China will turn inward as well (too many old people, not enough money), but not just yet.
Genetically, most Singaporeans are the children of the Chinese Empire; but in their spirit, they bear a strong resemblance to the (1950s-style) British Empire, ‘complete with caning’. Interesting. You can probably set up a similar situation with a pro-Imperial, racially Solomani world, somewhere near both major interstellar powers…
P.S.: A different take on the railway motif is from Issac Arthur’s Interstellar Highways video. Not my vision of the future, but certainly a possibility.
P.P.S.: You can now take the rail from London to Beijing for a bit more than $1100 (2017 prices). A true Traveller adventure!
And for the traders in the audience:
THE WORLD’S first China to Britain freight train has set off loaded with millions of socks – as part of its drive to develop trade and investment ties with Europe.
The 7,500-mile journey by a China Railway Corporation train will passes through seven countries in order to reach London in just 18 days.
Laugh if you want, but a profit is a profit. But I admit, there isn’t much high adventure shipping socks around, so you might as well leave it to the megacorporations, who are used to squeezing tiny margins of profit from bulk shipping.