“China’s high speed rail technology is already far better than the Japanese Bullet Train, Shinkansen.” That was how, six years ago, Wang Yongping, head of the Chinese Railway Ministry’s advertising department, refuted allegations of intellectual piracy.
In an interview with China’s state news agency Xinxua on July 7, 2011, he said that Chinese state-owned companies, having jointly developed a high-speed railway based on technologies licensed to Kawasaki Heavy Industries, were beginning preparations to apply for US Patents as “original technology.”
Wang asserted that the new model Chinese trains were superior, and that the Shinkansen and the Beijing-Shanghai High Speed Railway were “not even close to being comparable.” He further bragged: “China wants to give technical assistance to Japan.”
Wang’s comments illustrated China’s bare ambition to “export high-speed rail.” Just 13 years ago, China abandoned its own development attempt, deciding instead to rely upon Japanese, German, and French technology. However, in 2015, Indonesia rejected Japan’s high-speed railway offer, choosing China’s proposal. China, proceeding with overseas development despite profit risks, has become a formidable rival to Japan.
Yoshiyuki Kasai, honorary chairman of the Central Japan Railway Company, criticizes the decision to transfer technology. “The Shinkansen is the jewel of Japan. The technology transfer to China was a huge mistake,” he said.
So why was Japan’s most prized technology leaked?
According to Tsutomu Murasaki, executive director of the Japan Railway System Exporters Association, “If you put high technical ability on display like that, then it (copying) is inevitable. There were many who said that.”
One of the executives from a certain manufacturer said, that “with the German Bombardier and the French Alstom poised to enter China, there was no way we could just sit back and watch.”
Tetsuro Tomita, president of the East Japan Railway Company, pointed out that Japan too had previously learned from western technology. “With those kinds of high capabilities, the reality is that strong rivals will also emerge.”
The Central Japan Railway Company, which owns the Shinkansen and Linear Train technology, is participating in the planning of the Texas high speed railway, using the Shinkansen. And they are promoting the linear for a New York-Washington line. The promotional costs on the ground have so far surpassed 5 billion yen.
However, Kasai said, “A business model involving a railway company profiting from selling the Shinkansen overseas does not exist.”
Manager of the Overseas Rapid Railway Project C&C Business Office Katsunori Ochiai explained it like this: “If the new Japanese model Shinkansen and linear trains are adopted in America, the market for manufacturers of the carriages and signal systems would be greatly expanded.”
The aim is to reduce procurement costs through mass-production. However, the operating distance for the Chinese high-speed railway is more than 22,000 km, which is more than seven times that of the Shinkansen.
The president of the Central Japan Railway Company, Yasuhide Tsuge, said, “Technical assistance is one of our strengths.” However, “As the best rapid rail technology in the world, if we don’t further refine our internationally compatible technology, domestic and overseas development will become even more precarious.”
China’s construction of Indonesia’s high speed rail is progressing slowly and cannot be said to be going perfectly. Pursuing it as a national policy regardless of profitability also entails some risk.
“It is vital to customize our service to the needs on the ground, rather than just pushing the Japanese way of operating,” said former external director of West Japan Railway Company, and Specially Appointed Professor at Kogakuin University, Satoru Sone.
(Click here to read the original story in Japanese.)