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Supporting Chinese Modernization Through High-Quality Development of Transportation

By Li Xiaopeng Source: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2024-01-05

Transportation is an important indicator of a country’s level of modernization. Under the strong leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC), China has earned global acclaim for the rapid modernization of its transportation system, which has both global and distinctly Chinese features.

I. Transportation missions and tasks 

Transportation as a pioneer of Chinese modernization

Transportation is a fundamental, pioneering, and strategic industry of our national economy. It is an important service industry and a major sector of our modern economic system. It offers vital support for the creation of a new development dynamic and a firm guarantee for a better life for the Chinese people. Transportation can promote common prosperity. Regarding the importance of transportation, President Xi Jinping has stated on various occasions, “the construction of transport infrastructure can have a transformational effect”; “the maxim ‘building roads is the first step to prosperity’ still holds true”; “in coastal areas, building ports is the first step to prosperity”; “a transportation network is a precursor to urban and economic development”; and “to have a developed economy and strong country, China must have strong transportation, especially ocean shipping.” Indeed, at the opening ceremony of the Second United Nations Global Sustainable Transport Conference, President Xi pointed out, “Transportation has become a frontier in China’s modernization drive.” Thus, the importance of transportation has been elevated to an unprecedented height in China’s overall modernization, endowing it with contemporary significance, strategic importance, and a new mission. We must ensure that we play a pioneering and leading role in terms of practical action, be forward-thinking in terms of our capabilities, and make breakthroughs, so that transportation modernization can be achieved quickly and remain at the forefront of Chinese modernization.

Boosting China’s strength in transportation

The CPC Central Committee with Xi Jinping at its core decided to develop a world-class transportation system based on China’s national conditions and our wider objectives and with an eye to the future, and such a system will lead and sustain efforts to build China into a modern socialist country. The report to the 19th CPC National Congress proposed “developing China’s strength in transportation,” and the report to the 20th National Congress announced that efforts should be made to “move faster to boost China’s strength in transportation.” The CPC Central Committee and State Council also published the Plan for Developing China’s Strengths in Transportation and the Outline for National Comprehensive Three-Dimensional Transportation Network Planning, which reflect the great importance attached to and high expectations for the construction of a world-class transportation system by the central authorities. As a result, we must thoroughly comprehend the elements, objectives, and tasks involved in boosting China’s strength in transportation, as well as promote the shift from a focus on speed and size to a focus on quality and efficiency. We need to move away from the independent development of various modes of transportation toward a more integrated approach, and from the traditional factor-driven approach toward a more innovation-driven one. We also need to create a modern comprehensive transportation network with first-class facilities, technology, management, and service, a network that is safe, convenient, efficient, green, and economical. These efforts will ensure that China has a popular, reliable, and world-leading transportation system that serves China’s overall modernization drive.

The fundamental goal of people’s transportation being for the people

Transportation has an important bearing on people’s standard of living, so developing a transportation system that satisfies the needs of the Chinese people is integral to achieving Chinese modernization. The people are always uppermost in President Xi’s thoughts: “Transportation links are the arteries of modern cities. These arteries must flow smoothly for cities to develop healthily. We must strive to develop a comprehensive three-dimensional transportation network, fully utilize underground spaces, and endeavor to create future cities that are free from ‘urban maladies’”; “We will improve our ability to keep traffic flowing, ensure people can travel safely and healthily, and guarantee the smooth and orderly transportation of key materials”; “In impoverished areas in our country, replacing a zip line with a bridge or building a road provides an opportunity for people to eradicate poverty and acquire wealth”; “Rural roads must not only be built well but also properly managed, maintained, and operated, in order to better guarantee that people in rural areas can achieve moderate prosperity and that the modernization of agriculture and rural areas is realized quickly.” We must firmly establish a people-centered development philosophy and the ideas that people’s transportation is for the people, depends on the people, benefits the people, and must be satisfactory to the people, so as to increase people’s sense of fulfillment, happiness, and security.


A Fuxing EMU train on the Hohhot-Ulaanqab section of the Beijing-Baotou Railway, August 24, 2023. PEOPLE’S DAILY / PHOTO BY ZHAO JIWEI

Easier movements of people and smoother flows of goods

To build a modern socialist country, we must, first and foremost, pursue high-quality development. It is also an inherent requirement for rapidly developing China’s strength in transportation. President Xi’s previously stated goal of “easier movements of people and smoother flows of goods” represents a grand vision for the modernization of China’s transportation system. He has also proposed the following: “We need to build a modern, comprehensive transportation system, create a unified and open transportation market, optimize the layout of comprehensive transportation corridors, increase the capacity of high-speed rail freight and international air freight, and accelerate the formation of a secure and efficient logistics network with internal and external connectivity”; “We must vigorously develop smart transportation and smart logistics, and promote the deep integration of new technologies, such as big data, the Internet, AI, and blockchain, with the transportation industry”; “We must accelerate the creation of green and low-carbon transportation modes, strengthen the construction of green infrastructure, promote new energy, intelligent, digital, and lightweight transportation equipment, encourage green modes of transportation, and make transportation low-carbon and environmentally friendly”; “Transportation authorities must enhance the security of critical infrastructure”; and “We need to strengthen ‘hard’ connectivity through infrastructure and ‘soft’ connectivity through institutions and regulations, as well as promote land, maritime, air, and cyberspace connectivity.” Centered on accelerating the creation of a new development dynamic, we must strive to promote high-quality development; highlight the importance of maintaining smooth flows, strengthening cooperation, expanding investment, maintaining market growth, adjusting the structure, and ensuring security; and achieve a combination of quality, efficiency, scale, speed, structure, and safety in transportation development, in order to offer better support, safeguards, and services for achieving Chinese modernization.


Cargo vessels on the Zaohe section of the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal in Suqian, Jiangsu Province, August 20, 2023. PEOPLE’S DAILY / PHOTO BY XU RUI

II. Conducting practical trials in transportation modernization

For more than a century, the CPC has led the Chinese people in the continuous exploration of a path to modernization. Since its 18th National Congress in 2012, the CPC has continued to make breakthroughs in theory and practice and succeeded in advancing and expanding Chinese modernization. The rapid development of transportation has served and supported the national modernization drive in China, creating a vast transportation system that is rapidly becoming a world-class one. Practice has proven that Chinese modernization is feasible and stable as well as the only means of boosting China’s strength and achieving national rejuvenation.

Adopting a big-picture perspective and ensuring transportation capacity

Chinese modernization is one of a huge population. When addressing issues, making decisions, and taking action, we must first consider the fact of our large population and focus on how to meet the enormous demand for transportation, so as to provide services that ensure efficient economic operations and stable social development. By the end of 2022, China had the world’s largest high-speed railway network, highway network, postal express delivery network, and world-class ports. Chinese aircrafts and shipping vessels connect China to the rest of the world, and China’s transportation network is among the longest in the world, at over 6 million km. Nationally, we have 155,000 km of operating railways, 5.36 million km of highways, 21,000 productive berths in ports, 128,000 km of navigable inland waterways, 254 certified airports, and 9,584 km of urban rail transit. Every township in China has a post office and every village is connected to the postal network. For many years now, China has been a frontrunner in terms of passenger and freight transportation and turnover, port cargo throughput, express delivery volume, and other key transportation indicators, giving us one of the world’s busiest transportation system. To better serve Chinese modernization on the new journey ahead, we need to build an appropriately future-oriented, modern, high-quality, comprehensive, and three-dimensional transportation network; enhance its service capacity; take steady and incremental steps to sustain progress; and strive to stabilize global industrial and supply chains and ensure smooth flows in the domestic and global economies.

Prioritizing the Chinese people and the values of equality and inclusivity

Chinese modernization is one of common prosperity for all. China upholds the people’s aspirations for a better life as the immutable goal of its modernization drive, so we must focus on making transportation development more balanced, coordinated, and inclusive. The major north-south and east-west transportation corridors are basically established. Key areas, including the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei and Xiong’an New Area, Yangtze River Economic Belt, Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, Yangtze River Delta, Yellow River Basin, and Chengdu-Chongqing economic circle, have all been connected to the transportation network, enabling the implementation of major regional strategies and coordinated development between regions. We have put our efforts into the quality of rural roads, ensuring that they are built, managed, maintained, and operated well. A total of 2.53 million km of rural roads has been built or resurfaced in the past decade, achieving the objective of connecting all towns and villages, where conditions permit, to paved roads, bus lines, and postal services. This has greatly improved the integration of urban and rural transportation services and aided poverty alleviation and rural revitalization efforts. Passenger travel has also become more convenient and comfortable, while freight logistics have become more economical and efficient. We have also doubled our efforts for introducing the “one-ticket,” “one-document,” and “one-container” easy and quick systems for integrated transportation services. As a result of these developments, transportation has become a sector that gives the Chinese people a strong sense of pride. To better serve Chinese modernization, we must achieve equal access to basic public services and promote the development of higher quality, more efficient, fairer, more sustainable, and safer transportation, so that the results of transportation modernization are of greater and more equitable benefit to the people.

Adhering to systems thinking and focusing on both “hard” and “soft” connectivity

Chinese modernization is one of material and cultural-ethical advancement. China is continuing to consolidate its material and technical foundations for transportation modernization as well as constantly advancing governance and ethical standards in transportation. Major transportation projects, including the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge, Beijing Daxing International Airport, Beijing-Zhangjiakou intercity high-speed railway, and the 12.5-meter deep-water channel in the Yangtze River from Nanjing to Taicang, have been completed and put into operation. China is producing a variety of advanced hardware, including Fuxing electric multiple unit (EMU) high-speed trains and the C919 airliner, and new forms and models of business are flourishing. Comprehensive government management of transportation has been largely established, a unified and open transportation market is rapidly taking shape, and a system of transportation strategies, plans, policies, regulations, and standards is constantly being refined. The ethos of transportation in the new era, a period which began in 2012, embodied by the construction of the Sichuan-Xizang and Qinghai-Xizang highways as well as the Qinghai-Xizang Railway, has been enriched; the story of transportation construction in China has grown more impressive; and the influence of our transportation system is resonating. All of this is presenting a customer-friendly, trustworthy, and appealing image of China’s transportation system in the current era. To better serve Chinese modernization, we must uphold the dual approaches of promoting coordination and positive interplay between material and non-material progress, striving for all-around material abundance and people’s well-rounded development.

Prioritizing environmental protection and promoting green and low-carbon development

Chinese modernization is one of harmony between humanity and nature. China has simultaneously promoted high-quality development and high-standard environmental protection, strengthened the conservation and efficient utilization of resources, and resolutely pursued the path of sustainable development. We have accelerated the development of multimodal freight transportation and encouraged the move of bulk cargo transportation off highways and onto railways and waterways. We have implemented a system of control zones for air pollution from vessels, which covers coastal waters, ports, and inland waterways including the mainstem of the Yangtze River. We have installed a total of more than 18,000 highway charging facilities for electric vehicles, and the use of shore power by ships docking at ports in key areas has increased significantly. We have prioritized the development of urban public transportation. Green travel has become deeply rooted among the public, with more than 28 million shared bicycle rides per day. Positive progress has also been made with efforts to make packaging in the express delivery industry more environmentally friendly. To better serve Chinese modernization, we must accelerate the development of green and low-carbon modes of transportation, construct green infrastructure, and promote new-energy and lightweight transportation equipment. We must also make transportation low-carbon and more environmentally friendly, in order to make our skies bluer, mountains greener, waters cleaner, and environment better.


Workers weld steel cages at the construction site of the Shuangliu Yangtze River Bridge on the expressway connecting Wuhan to Ezhou, Hubei Province, September 14, 2023. PEOPLE’S DAILY / PHOTO BY JIN WEI

Upholding global connectivity and boosting synergy for opening up

Chinese modernization is one of peaceful development. China is dedicated to peace, development, cooperation, and mutual benefit, promoting global cooperation on transportation, economic integration, and people-to-people exchanges, in an effort to turn the world into a better global village. To this end, we have accelerated the construction of a multi-faceted, comprehensive, and multi-tiered transportation network under the Belt and Road Initiative. The China Railway Express (CR Express) now reaches more than 200 cities in 25 European countries, and China has expanded international road transportation cooperation to include 21 countries. We are connected to over 100 countries by maritime transport routes and to 64 countries by civil aviation routes, and our postal network covers more than 220 countries and regions. We have made breakthroughs in developing free trade zones, free trade ports, and aviation policies. We successfully held the Second United Nations Global Sustainable Transport Conference and the 2023 Global Sustainable Transport Forum. Construction of the Global Sustainable Transport Innovation and Knowledge Center is progressing, and more Chinese solutions and voices are emerging in global transportation governance. To better serve Chinese modernization, we must keep communicating with the rest of the world, stay abreast of the times, and pursue a vision of global governance featuring shared growth through discussion and collaboration. We must also strengthen the “hard” connectivity of infrastructure and “soft” connectivity of institutions and regulations, initiate a new phase of infrastructure connectivity, unobstructed trade and investment, and cultural exchanges and dialogue, and advance the development of a global community of shared future.

III. Promoting high-quality development of transportation

Chinese modernization is a sure path to a strong country and national rejuvenation. We need to adhere to the guidance of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, fully implement the guiding principles of the 20th CPC National Congress, faithfully apply the new development philosophy on all fronts, help to create a new development dynamic, and promote high-quality development. We must also thoroughly implement the Plan for Developing China’s Strengths in Transportation and the Outline for National Comprehensive Three-Dimensional Transportation Network Planning, strive to implement the Five-Year Action Plan for Building a Strong Transportation System in China (2023–2027), and encourage effective qualitative improvements and reasonable quantitative growth of the transportation sector, in order to open up new avenues and prospects for Chinese modernization.

Accelerating the construction of a modern, high-quality, comprehensive, and three-dimensional transportation network

A modern, high-quality, comprehensive, and three-dimensional transportation network is an integral element of modern infrastructure and an important pillar of a modern industrial system and a modern socialist country. We will continue to optimize the layout, structure, functions, and integration of comprehensive transportation infrastructure, and promote integrated high-quality development across transportation modes, regions, domains, and industries. With the focus on creating a well-connected network with strong links and on improving network efficiency, we will optimize the layout of the comprehensive, three-dimensional transportation network, develop an efficient national transportation framework consisting of “six axes, seven corridors, and eight trunk lines,” and advance the construction of major projects, such as routes to/from Xinjiang and Xizang and along borders and the coast and the new western land-sea corridor. We will also optimize the integration of infrastructure, create multi-level, integrated, and comprehensive transportation hubs, and support a number of national comprehensive freight hubs in shoring up operations chains. We will assist with the implementation of national strategies, including major regional strategies, the coordinated regional development strategy, new urbanization, and rural revitalization. We will quickly improve the quality and efficiency of the existing network, adopt targeted measures to fix shortcomings in the network, and strengthen coordination, in order to show our transportation network in the best light as part of the Beautiful China Initiative.

Striving to improve the services of our comprehensive transportation network

Transportation is an important foundation for promoting common prosperity and a cornerstone for the security and stability of industrial and supply chains. As such, we must fully leverage its connective role in promoting positive interplay between domestic and international flows and accelerating the establishment of a new development dynamic. Focusing on the realization of the “national 123 transportation” objective (to achieve a maximum of a one-hour commute within urban areas, two-hour travel between cities of a conurbation, and three-hour travel to major cities nationwide), we will advance the high-quality growth of intermodal passenger transportation and strive to develop high-capacity and efficient interregional express passenger transport services centered on high-speed rail and aviation. We will increase commuting by rail in city clusters and metropolitan areas, fully implement the strategy of prioritizing the development of urban public transportation, and strengthen comprehensive management of urban traffic congestion. We will make urban transportation more accessible for the elderly and people with disabilities, increase the integration of urban and rural transportation systems, and ensure that rural roads are built, managed, maintained, and operated well, in order to quickly facilitate easier movements of people. Focusing on the “global 123 fast logistics” objective (to achieve one-day delivery in China, two-day delivery to/from neighboring countries, and three-day delivery to/from major cities around the world), we will improve the long-term mechanisms, institutions, and standards of transportation and logistics, vigorously develop multimodal transportation, and quickly bolster high-speed rail freight and air freight as well as promote high-quality road freight. We will improve urban logistics distribution networks and develop specialized logistics, such as e-commerce logistics, cold chain logistics, large-cargo transportation, and logistics for dangerous cargo. We will also establish sound logistics services at the village, township, and county levels as well as rural postal and delivery services and develop integrated rural passenger, cargo, and postal services, in order to ensure smooth flows of goods.

Advancing reform and innovation in transportation

To achieve the momentous transition from a vast transportation system to a world-class one, we must be reform- and innovation-driven and constantly eliminate weaknesses in our systems and mechanisms. This will imbue the high-quality development of transportation with greater vitality. We will champion innovation-driven development, improve the technological innovation system for transportation, and implement projects targeting breakthroughs in key technologies and pilot applications of smart transportation. We will quickly develop digital transportation, promote the in-depth integration of new technologies, such as big data, the Internet, AI, blockchain, and supercomputing, with the transportation industry, and advance the construction of new transportation infrastructure, including smart railways, roads, ports, shipping channels, civil aviation, postal services, and hubs. We will modernize the governance of transportation, further the reform to introduce comprehensive government management of transportation, and promote policy innovations, such as toll roads. We will establish sound systems in the areas of strategy, planning, policy, law, regulation, and standards that are conducive to the high-quality development of transportation, accelerate putting in place a unified and open transportation market, and continue to improve the business environment.

Promoting green and safe transportation

The development of transportation in China is founded on safety and environmental protection. We must ensure that we safeguard security and ecological redlines, and improve our ability to survive, compete, and develop sustainably. We will accelerate adjustments and improvements to the transport structure and continue to encourage the move of bulk cargo transportation and medium- and long-distance freight transportation from highways to railways and waterways. We will encourage the use of low-carbon and diversified energy sources for transportation, continually improve highway charging service capacity, and promote applications of new and clean energy. We will promote transportation projects that economically and efficiently utilize resources, such as land, road routes, bridge locations, and shores. We will strengthen pollution prevention and control in key areas, better control pollutant emissions from vehicles, shipping vessels, and ports, boost the reduction, standardization, and recycling of express delivery packaging, and encourage green modes of transportation. We will take a holistic approach to national security, increase the proportion of disaster-prone areas and major industrial and energy bases with multiple routes in and out of them, and improve the resilience of the transportation network. We will improve safety and security in key areas of transportation, push ahead with the “Safe and Quality Project,” better control workplace safety risks, promote a shift toward prevention, and resolutely prevent and curb serious and major accidents. We will improve the industry’s command and emergency rescue systems, disaster prevention, mitigation, and relief efforts, and response capabilities for major public emergencies.

Strengthening higher-standard opening up and cooperation in transportation

Infrastructure connectivity is a prerequisite and foundation for promoting connectivity in the areas of policy, trade, finance, and people-to-people exchanges. We must uphold the objective of creating a transportation system with global connections and use transport connectivity to promote the building of a global community of shared future. We will develop high-quality projects to improve transportation connectivity along the Belt and Road and support the sustained and healthy development of the CR Express and the China-Europe Land-Sea Express Line. We will advance the negotiation and implementation of international road transport cooperation documents and maritime transport agreements to facilitate international transportation. We will refine international cooperation mechanisms for transportation, deepen international exchanges and cooperation on transportation, expand our circle of friends for cooperation, and create new opportunities for the world with our own development. We will participate extensively in the formulation of international rules and standards and constructively engage in negotiations on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping. We will better leverage the role of the Global Sustainable Transport Innovation and Knowledge Center in China and contribute our wisdom and strength to promoting the sustainable development of transportation around the world.


Li Xiaopeng is Minister of Transport and Secretary of the Ministry’s CPC Leadership Group.

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 19, 2023)