The Kra Isthmus Canal – A Maritime Silk Road to Rival the Suez and Panama

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The Kra Isthmus Canal – A Maritime Silk Road to Rival the Suez and Panama
The Kra Isthmus Canal – A Maritime Silk Road to Rival the Suez and Panama

Mooted throughout Thailand’s history, the Thai Canal project is an infrastructure project that has been at the conceptual development phase for more than three centuries and conceived back in 1677

An Asian equivalent of the Suez or Panama canals, the so-called Kra Canal would slice through the Malay Peninsula some 800km south of Bangkok and about 200km north of Thailand’s border with Malaysia, linking the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea at roughly the same latitude as the island of Phuket. Until the 19th century, technology constraints made it impossible for the project to proceed. Toward the end of the 19th century, it became technically feasible with several proposals made by France and Britain during the reigns of King Rama IV and V. The 20th Century saw several attempts made to bring the project back, but coming to an end every time for one of three main reasons: lack of funding, national security, and changes of government. The Canal project was reborn in 2001, with the hope of rebuilding the country’s economy and as a platform for sustainability with many rounds of seminars, debates and a “preparatory” feasibility study. What is The Kra Isthmus Canal? The Kra Isthmus Canal would constitute a mega-project, a passageway that would connect the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand at the Isthmus of Kra, Thailand, the narrow ‘neck’ of Thailand heading south with the provinces of Phetchaburi, Prachuap Khiri Khan and Chumphon featuring. A canal connection somewhere south of Chumphon would save shipping costs and time as the route is shorter by 1,000 km.

The canal’s purpose would be to bypass the narrow, traffic-choked and strategically sensitive Malacca Strait; the world’s busiest trade route with arate of accidents is twice as high as the Suez Canal and four times higher than the Panama Canal. The link would be between China, Japan and other East Asian nations with the oil fields of the Middle East and major markets in Europe, Africa and India. One of big winners could be Sri Lanka, which lies astride the busy sea lanes of the northern Indian Ocean, making it an obvious choice for a new shipping hub As the enterprise of a decade with a cost of at least US $30 billion – around 8% of Thailand’s GDP -, the canal would obviously create jobs in the Kingdom and beyond, but it would also facilitate global trade and stand as a symbol of international cooperation. Although the proposal is projected to provide many economic and trade benefits to Thailand and to the region as a whole, steps toward its development have been problematic. Apart from financing issues, there has been much debate over the costs for trade, the costs for the environment, national and regional security concerns as well as major concerns related to political and economic relationships in the region. Thailand has much to gain from a Kra Canal project at the same time as Singapore has just as much to lose. The Kra Canal, which has the potential of diverting half the shipping tonnage now calling at Singapore ports up north to Thailand, will have an impact on the Republic’s economy which will be huge and permanent.

A ‘Rail Canal’ maybe one innovative alternative Recent Developments A Chinese company has recently completed a feasibility study, deciding on the best route for the canal. The Thai Canal Association for Study and Development has been set up to survey the proposed route. The Association has set up local committees along the proposed route to sign up supporters, spell out compensation proposals and explain the job opportunities a canal would create.

A book has been prepared promoting the Kra Canal, with 10,000 copies, 1200 copies being distributed to leading institutional figures. According to the book, the waterway alone would cost $28 billion. A surrounding special economic zone would cost another $22 billion, which would fund related industries and infrastructure, including new cities and artificial offshore islands built with excavated earth. The combined project would eventually create some 2.5 million jobs according to the promotional book — enough to employ one in four of the roughly 10 million inhabitants of southern Thailand. Another high-powered pro-canal group is the Thai-Chinese Culture and Economy Association of Thailand, headed by former Thai Deputy Prime Minister Bhokin Bhalakula. In recent speeches in China, Bhokin has called for the Kra Canal to be considered for inclusion in Beijing’s BRI initiative. In September this year, the King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology Ladkrabang and Thai Canal Association for Study and Development hosted an international conference: TECHNOLOGY FOR SUSTAINABLE PATHS TO THAILAND’S FUTURE, THAI CANAL: Comprehensive Study of New Logistics Systems for the Maritime Silk Road.

“As the development of the Kra Isthmus Canal (Thai Canal) is of great significance to Thailand, it is recommended that the relevant departments of Thailand start the feasibility study of the canal as soon as possible,” said Prof Zhou Dawei from Peking University. He said, the Thai Canal would open up the most spectacular sea corridors in human history, like the Suez and Panama Canals which would connect international maritime channel network. Another expert Zhao Gang from Beijing’s Scheme of International Cooperation in Renewable Energy said, Thailand could not make the right judgment and decision without conducting a complete scientific feasibility study about the Thai Canal. Chairman of Thai Canal Association of Study and Development General Pongthep Tesprateep in his opening speech at a conference earlier this year, called on the Thai government to create a National Committee to complete a feasibility study. The feasibility study he said, “will provide answers to any doubt that may still exist.” For more information see www.kracanal-maritimesilkroad.com

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