What’s the practical limit of shipping from China’s interior?

Today’s segment on CCTV’s Dialogue touched on the commercial viability of China’s west. One of the guests suggested that high speed rail was helping to level the playing field while another posited that high speed rail detracts from the development of other, more important infrastructure projects. It raises the question, is there a practical limit to how far raw materials and goods can be transported profitably? What alternate routes are of interest? What are the ideal goods to produce based on locally sourced raw materials? What is the carbon footprint (or the real cost) of goods requiring long transport routes?

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