Bangkok: With the second decade of this century becoming known for mega canal projects, an old Thai infrastructure plan is being dusted off once again. Expansion works at both the Panama and Suez canals are well underway while a Chinese tycoon plans to carve a waterway through Nicaragua. In Thailand, the 200-plus year old plans to build a canal through its isthmus is once again gaining traction, as it seems to every few years. This time, however, there’s talk that the Chinese would be willing to invest in the project. The Kra Canal would link the South China Sea with the Andaman Sea.
Pakdee Tanapura, deputy director of the economic section at Thai-Chinese Cultural and Economic Association and a member the National Committee for the Study of the Kra Canal Project, told local media the Kra Canal could be part of the new Maritime Silk Road as espoused by China.
A pre-feasibility study on the Kra Canal and a special economic zone has revealed that the 26 m deep and less than 100 km long waterway would cost about $20bn to build and would shave at least two days off routes between Asia and Europe, avoiding the increasingly congested Malacca Straits.
The best route, Pakdee said, is the 5A line between Songkhla and Satun.
“The Maritime Institute of Malaysia’s study shows that the Malacca Strait is expected to be over-congested in 10 years… By 2025, there will be about 140,000 vessels and ocean freighters passing through the strait but it can only accommodate about 122,000 ships,” he said.
China, which has recently signed up to help build a new pan-Thai railroad, could be interested in helping construct this Southeast Asian waterway, Pakdee said.
China’s efforts to avoid overreliance on Malacca Strait has seen it build a giant oil pipeline from Myanmar into China as well as upping its land connections with Central Asia.
The University of International Business and Economics in Beijing has been working with the National Committee for the Study of the Kra Canal Project on the pre-feasibility study.