[BEIJING] State-owned Chinese firms are in discussions to sell high-speed trains to the United States, senior officials said on Thursday, a deal that would be likely to ignite controversy.
China's leaders have been promoting the country's fast rail technologies in meetings with foreign politicians as they seek to move the country's exports up the value chain, and Chinese companies are building high-speed rail networks in Turkey and Venezuela.
But a contract for a Chinese-led consortium to build a high-speed rail line in Mexico was scrapped only days after it was signed, and a deal to supply subway trains to Boston also generated controversy.
For China to build infrastructure in the United States - where a number of high-speed rail proposals have come to naught - or supply it with rolling stock would be politically sensitive.
But Zhi Luxun, a senior official with the commerce ministry's foreign trade department, told AFP Thursday: "There are currently discussions with the United States." He was responding to a question about possible Chinese exports of high-speed trains.
Officials did not provide further details and said it was a matter for the companies concerned.
A number of high-speed rail projects are under consideration in the United States including in Texas and Florida, but only one has entered the early stages of construction - in California, under a Spanish consortium - while others have fallen by the wayside.
Only begun in 1999, China's high-speed rail network has quickly become the largest in the world, with more than 16,000 kilometres of track in service last year, Zhi said during a briefing.
The country is also negotiating with Russia, Laos and Thailand on construction of high-speed rail lines there, said Zhou Zhenwu, an official with the commerce ministry's department of outward investment and economic cooperation.
China and Russia signed a memorandum of understanding in October during Premier Li Keqiang's visit to Moscow in which Beijing expressed interest in building a fast rail link between the Russian capital and Kazan, in the oil-rich Tatarstan region.
"Relevant agencies (in the countries involved) are in close contact to actively, effectively and orderly push forward the Moscow high-speed rail and the China-Laos high-speed link," Zhou said, adding the Thailand project is at a similar stage.
China's railway equipment exports increased by 34.7 percent annually from US$80 million in 2001 to US$3.74 billion last year, Zhi said.