China still has chance to be part of Thailand rail project

Construction News Laos

China should not be pessimistic about its prospects for winning a chance to construct a planned high-speed railway project in Thailand, which has been stalled due to the ongoing political turmoil in the Southeast Asian country, experts have told the Shanghai-based China Business News.

Chula Sukmanop, director-general of Thailand’s Office of Transport and Traffic Policy and Planning, recently said it is unlikely to go ahead with the rice payment for the high-speed railway project, because the government’s rice-buying scheme is in limbo.

The rice-buying scheme helped Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra win the 2011 election but also resulted in the government accumulating a sizable rice inventory which has been a contributing factor in the ongoing political row and street protests in the country.

The high speed railway project is also under threat, as Thailand’s Constitution Court began reviewing the government’s 2.2 trillion Thai baht (US$67 billion) loan bill — proposed to fund infrastructure projects — on Feb. 12.

Although China and Thailand signed a memorandum of understanding last year on possible arrangements regarding Thailand paying China partly in rice, if Chinese companies won the bid to build the high speed railway, Chula stated that his country should consider loans as an alternative.

Thai transport minister Chadchat Sittipunt said earlier that China had expressed its intention of taking part in the construction of the high-speed rail link between Phachi and Nong Khai and would agree to accept agricultural produce as payment. China is interested in the section because it could be connected with a high-speed link between China and Laos, the newspaper pointed out.

Thailand is planning to first go ahead with the construction of a high-speed link between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, according to the report.

Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, said that even if the high-speed rail project is affected in the near future, China still stands a chance of taking part in the project after the political unrest settles down, because history shows that political developments have had little impact on Bangkok’s foreign policy.

Pimonwan Mahujchariyawong, deputy managing director of the Kasikorn Research Center in Thailand, agreed with Oh, saying China should be patient since the new Thai government could resort to other means to fund the infrastructure projects if the Constitution Court finds the loan bill unconstitutional.



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