China approves $15.7b in new urban rail projects, seen quickening infrastructure spending

Labourers work on the construction site of a high-speed railway in Linyi, China.
Labourers work on the construction site of a high-speed railway in Linyi, China. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China's state planner has approved a total 78.7 billion yuan (S$15.7 billion) of urban railway projects in the capital of the northern Jilin province, the country's first urban rail project to be approved in a year, local media reported on Sunday (Aug 12).

The approval for the projects in Changchun city signals the restarting of infrastructure projects that Beijing had put on hold as it sought to contain local government debt, part of its multi-year risk crackdown.

The Politburo, China's top decision-making body, said in July that China could boost infrastructure spending, confirming a Reuters exclusive that China was planning to ease borrowing curbs on local governments to prop up growth as the economy slows amid a heated trade row with the United States.

The state planner has approved urban railway projects, including eight subway lines, with estimated length of 135.4km for Changchun, the National Business Daily (NBD) said on Sunday, citing an announcement on the Jilin Development and Reform Commission's website.

The original statement could not be found on the commission's website, but a local official with the Jilin commission said the paper's report was accurate and the statement had been removed because official approval documents had not yet been issued.

"We had a meeting with NDRC (National Development and Reform Commission) last month and projects were approved in general but the official paper hasn't been handed down yet," said a Jilin commission official who gave his surname as Hu.

Construction on the Jilin projects should start this year and is scheduled to finish in 2023, with 60 per cent of the financing to come from bank lending, according to the National Business Daily.

Last year (2017), some local governments including the northern city of Baotou in Inner Mongolia, cancelled subway projects because of difficulty financing them.

China's economic growth slowed modestly to 6.7 per cent in the second quarter, with the outlook clouded by an escalating trade dispute with the US, rising corporate borrowing costs, and steep declines in Chinese stocks and the yuan.