The prospect of being able to travel from London to Tokyo without risking wet feet was raised by Russian vice-president Igor Shuvalov at this month’s Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok when he mooted the idea of a joint road and rail bridge between Sakhalin and Hokkaido across La Pérouse (aka Soya) Strait. If built, the bridge would hook Japan up to the Trans Siberian railway line which, Shuvalov told delegates, was soon to be extended on to Russia’s Pacific coastline.
“We are seriously inviting Japanese partners to consider the construction of a mixed road and railway passage from Hokkaido to the southern part of Sakhalin,” he said. “We are close to starting the extension of the [Trans Siberian] railway to the Pacific shore and then of a crossing to Sakhalin island. Given modern technologies, it would not even be that expensive,’ he said.
Although senior figures in Moscow had earlier questioned the cost effectiveness of a rail link to Japan, his president appears to be open to persuasion. “The Far East offers a unique combination of opportunities and competitive advantages for the implementation of ambitious projects – including preferential tax treatment and streamlined administrative procedures – which are comparable to or even more favourable than in the best development areas in Asia Pacific and the world,” Putin told the forum.
“The region is rich with natural resources including coal, oil, gas and metals, as well as low energy prices, which are cheaper in Blagoveshchensk, Vladivostok and Khabarovsk than in Busan, Seoul, Osaka, Tokyo or Beijing.
“New transportation corridors are being built and port capacity is being increased to give companies an opportunity to deliver their goods from Asia Pacific to Europe and back – as well as to other regions – as quickly and as cheaply as possible. We are looking at the possibility of building a railway bridge to Sakhalin. Taken together with the development of the Northern Sea Route, modernisation of BAM (the Baikal–Amur Mainline) and the Trans-Siberian Railway this will help us make the Russian Far East a major global logistics hub.”
Russia was ready to discuss investment, trade and financial opportunities from partners on either side of the Pacific, he added.
Nearly 30 projects worth $4bn are currently being developed in the Russian Far East’s priority development areas (PDA) and the Free Port of Vladivostok, and Chinese investment in the region in 2016 was up 30% on the previous year, Russian Far East Development Minister Alexander Galushka told the forum the following day.