GERMAN Chancellor Angela Merkel rode a Transrapid maglev vehicle over the 31 km between Shanghai and Pudong airport during an official visit to China in May, but not everything was running smoothly.

The stage had been set for Merkel to sign a deal with Chinese authorities that would have seen German contractors secure a juicy slice of the project to extend the line by 170 km to Hangzhou (RG 4.06 p173). But it was not to be.

Merkel had arrived armed with a file of complaints by German companies about demands for technology transferand intellectual property rights that are weighted strongly in favour of Chinese partners. It turned out that the Chinese were anxious to secure the rights to much more of the Transrapid technology than Siemens and ThysenKrupp were willing to grant, and signature of the contract for the line to Hangzhou was postponed at the last minute.

Behind the scenes it was clear that negotiations had hit trouble, and this was confirmed on June 8 when reports emerged that China was prepared to drop the project if agreement could not be reached. The dispute revolved around Germany’s unwillingness to contribute financially to the scheme or to concede the high level of technology transfer demanded by the Chinese. Wu Xiangming, Director of the National Maglev Transportation Technology Research Centre, told the Chinese media that if the talks broke down, the line would not be built.

Merkel’s visit to China did, however, trigger a tentative deal for Siemens to share a build of 500 electric locomotives in partnership with Zhuzhou Electric Locomotive Works (p374). In contrast to the maglev line from Shanghai to Hangzhou, these really are needed on China’s overstretched network. n