HAVE you heard of Gannan? Probably not, but 'you are sure to know it when you get on the train between Beijing and Kowloon', promises the glossy guide to the southern part of Jiangxi province. The line will not open until mid-1997 and, depending on where you get on, you might pass through Ganzhou - the major city in Gannan - in the middle of the night. But there is no doubt that the provinces through which the line passes expect it to suck in the sort of domestic and foreign investment that they have seen, enviously, pour into the more accessible coastal provinces in recent years. Along with scores of others, the Gannan brochure was handed out last month in Hong Kong, at an exhibition and seminar presenting business opportunities created by the new rail link. They contain the usual ambitious lists of projects: nine million yuan (HK$8.37 million) for a farm for 'Young Soft-shelled Turtles and Fragrant Piglings'; 10 million yuan for a 'Dort with Handling Capacity of 1.2 million tonnes annually'; 39.12 million yuan for a 'Coloured Woven Pipeline', and so on. All promise nice returns, and it is clear that almost every township along the line has been busily clearing farmland and putting up office blocks, hotels, restaurants and karaoke bars in anticipation of the rush of investors. The provincial and central authorities are also eager for the new rail link to begin to redress the ever more worrying imbalance in economic growth between the haves and have-nots. Jiangxi, with the poorest access of all the provinces through which the new line runs, is a case in point. Figures for 1994, for example, show annual urban per capita income in Jiangxi at only 2,773 yuan, around half that of Shanghai, and well below that of the neighbouring coastal provinces of Fujian and Zhejiang, at 3,673 yuan and 5,066 yuan respectively. Significantly, it is also below the figures for the neighbouring inland provinces of Hunan and Hubei, through which the existing Beijing-Guangzhou line passes and which have incomes of 3,888 and 3,356 yuan respectively. There is little doubt that recent under-investment has been the cause. Jiangxi in 1994 absorbed just US$291 million (HK$2.24 billion) in foreign capital, against US$1.16 billion for Zhejiang and US$668 million for Hubei. With the export sector providing the motor of Chinese economic growth, poor links with the outside world are considered by the authorities to be one of the main factors that have held investment back from provinces such as Jiangxi. Again, the province's total exports in 1994 amounted to only US$805 million, against Zhejiang exporting US$6.1 billion and Hubei US$1.7 billion. But is the logic correct? Will foreign investors really discover Gannan? Many observers in Hong Kong are sceptical. 'The new line's main function is to relieve the congestion on the existing Beijing to Guangzhou route,' one infrastructure specialist explains. 'But though the flow of manufactures may also increase, this will be secondary. The movement of coal is one of the main factors in railway development in China. The main effect of the addition of the new route will probably be above all to increase the flow of coal between the north and the south.' How significant transport links are for investors, rather than coal-mines and power stations, is questionable. They are important, but not overriding. Foreign investors in any case have many alternative sites in China where even with the new rail link, transport will be easier. Even in Guangdong, let alone the other coastal provinces, economic development zones abound, waiting to be filled. These generally offer better infrastructure and, in more remote areas, still offer reasonable land costs and wages. They are also, very significantly for operations that require non-Chinese expatriate managers to run them, within easy reach of a 'watering-hole' such as Shanghai or Beijing. True, land prices are lower in places like Jiangxi compared to its neighbours, and average annual wages are also more attractive. But whether they are attractive enough seems doubtful. Interestingly, Hong Kong does not seem to have made provision for a great flood of manufactures coming down the line to Kowloon. According to Catherine Wong at the One Country, Two Systems Economic Research Institute, the Infrastructure Co-ordinating Committee is studying the impact on Hong Kong. But to date, no new terminal has been planned in Kowloon. If, after all, the line will mainly carry coal for off-loading in Guangzhou, then there will be no need. And perhaps Gannan will be passed in the economic night. Nick Bradbury is the author of 'Infrastructure in China', a report published by the Economist Intelligence Unit.