Joan Vennochi has a good column out on how the MBTA’s $1 billion rail car contract with CRRC — owned by the Chinese government — has failed to deliver for Massachusetts.
As she notes, China’s state-owned business ‘blew away’ the competition with its initial bid, but has (predictably) faltered at every conceivable level.
For these failures, Congressman Neal helped reward the CRRC (and thus the Chinese Communist Party) by protecting their investment, securing language that prevented CRRC from facing federal scrutiny.
What’s Massachusetts got out of this deal? Only a few delivered trains, none of which are as of yet safe to operate.
This was a really stupid deal for Massachusetts — the epitome of ‘too good to be true.’ We should use the CRRC’s repeated failures as a chance to cancel the deal, and hopefully claw back some of the money.
Of course, CRRC’s failures are just the excuse we should use. The real issue here is national security — the fact that this deal is dangerous for Massachusetts and our country.
When the contract bid was first being floated, some experts warned about the potential they could be used as intelligence assets for the Chinese government — “spy trains.”
We normal people mostly laughed that off at the time, even though China spies on every facet of American life (and the lives of our allies) every minute of every day, and the problem has drastically ramped up in recent years.
These issues have real world consequences for US citizens and our allies. Heck, just look at what China did to Nortel, one of the world’s (former) global leaders in networking: every facet of the company was penetrated by the Chinese state to make way for Huawei, and China’s control of huge swaths of the world’s 5G. Nortel quickly went from a powerhouse to bankrupt.
So maybe we shouldn’t laugh “spy trains” off?
Even if we could, however, that doesn’t mean China wouldn’t weaponize the CRRC against America in far more important ways.
The CRRC’s deal should be viewed in a similar context to the Belt and Road Initiative — China’s global building spree to control major aspects of other country’s critical infrastucture, giving China huge leverage over those other countries, and geopolitics as a whole.
The MBTA deal helped gain China a foothold in America’s mass transit infrastructure, and China has been clear it would like to grow that foothold — gaining marketshare at the expense of others.
Trains and rail cars for major subway systems are hard to build. It won’t take much for other companies to get driven out of the US market — especially if they get “Nortelled.”
As a state-owned business, CRRC doesn’t need to worry about profit margins. China is happy to “profit” in other ways. So CRRC can continue to underbid, especially if states like ours continue to turn a blind eye when China fails to deliver.
Last but not least, an expanded CRRC foothold in the US means the CRRC would represent hundreds of infrastructure-based jobs in Congressional districts across the country — especially if CRRC is successful in gaining marketshare.
That is a rather awkward position for any Congressmember to be in. They’re thinking about jobs, not China — but President Xi was no doubt tickled pink when someone as powerful as Congressman Neal went to bat for China instead of US national security interests. It doesn’t matter if Congressman Neal only cared about the jobs — the jobs are Xi’s leverage.
Whether it’s the potential for spying, the foothold China could gain over our own infrastructure — or the jobs the CCP could hold over our Congressmembers — why in the world would we want to allow any of this?
Especially if China’s state-owned business is going to fail to meet their promises and build shoddy trains anyway?
Charlie Baker should call the state’s best lawyers and get us out of the deal, then call everyone he knows in DC to help us get federal funding for a new MBTA contract — preferably from a company that isn’t owned by a foreign adversary who’d use the deal against us.