Planes, trains, and automobiles
GLO10 china ports

How do you transport 1.3 billion people and all their supplies?

China's path to prosperity may be paved with more than just roads. It's also building airports. And high-speed railways.

So many of China's economic goals hinge on efficient transport: The shift from rural to urban living has necessitated vast investments in transit, both in cities and the country. Some new projects consist of highways and subway lines built within metropolitan areas. Others will link rural towns and villages, bringing them into the country's rapidly growing urban network. Gradually, as the coasts continue to modernize, basic manufacturing will move further inland. As eastern cities like Beijing and Shanghai rise up the value chain toward more sophisticated industries, China plans to shift more development (and freight) toward its relatively isolated western provinces. Case in point: It's spending $27 billion on an inland port in Wuhan.

By developing greater connectivity throughout the country, China hopes it will be better able to tap into the vast spending potential of its rising middle class. Domestic consumption, analysts say, is the key to the future of the Chinese economy. By focusing inward, China will be able to create more sustainable growth than it would by peddling low-cost exports to the U.S. and Europe.

Much of the construction is what you might expect -- the development patterns echo the U.S. during the Industrial Revolution. What's different is the scale. In 2007, China had no high-speed rail; today it has the world's largest high-speed network, with 5,800 miles of track. The country plans to construct at least 5,400 more miles of superfast track, plus at least 50 additional airports and 440 deep-water berths for ships by the end of 2015.

Given the recent slowdown and fears over repercussions from infrastructure-induced government debt, managing that kind of economic redirection may seem tricky. But then again, so does doubling the country's length of high-speed rail between 2011 and 2015 -- and that goal is on track so far. Says Stephen Ip, KPMG China's lead partner for government and infrastructure: "A lot of things happen in China that you don't think could."

  @FortuneMagazine - Last updated May 23 2013 07:07 AM ET
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