Thailand denies Kra Canal deal

Construction News

Thai government officials have denied media reports that Bangkok has signed an agreement with Beijing to construct a shipping canal through the Kra Isthmus that could allow ships to bypass the Straits of Malacca.

A boat travels along a canal in Thailand. (Photo: Pornchai Kittiwongsakul/AFP)

BANGKOK: Senior Thai officials on Tuesday (May 19) denied reports that Thailand has signed an agreement with China to develop a shipping canal through the Kra Isthmus, south of Thailand.

Media reports emanating from China suggest the Thai and Chinese governments have made an agreement in Guangzhou on a canal through the narrowest part of the Malay Peninsula in southern Thailand.

If realised, the project would allow ships from the Indian Ocean to access the Gulf of Thailand, bypassing the congested Straits of Malacca.

According to the news reports, the Kra Canal project will take a decade to complete and will incur a cost of US$28 billion. However, a Thai Transport Ministry official said the project is not in the pipeline.

On Wednesday, a government source that refused to be named disclosed that China will definitely push for the Kra Canal construction, although it will most likely be named differently.

“It is unlikely for Thailand to agree on the project because we are concerned about national security,” the source added, without ruling out private ventures. “It is unlikely for the Kra Canal project to be materialised anytime soon.”

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs also stated there has been no agreement between the Thai and Chinese governments on this matter.

According to Dr Panitan Wattanayagorn, security advisor to Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, the reports from China might have been a result of a misunderstanding.

The Kra Canal Committee in Thailand comprises businessmen and former officials who conduct studies on the feasibility of the project. However, none of the governments have officially initiated the scheme.

Although several Thai leaders since the 1930s have suggested the Kra Canal project as an alternative shipping lane to the Straits of Malacca, linking the Indian Ocean with the Gulf of Thailand, the plan has never materialised due to its enormous cost and possible damage to the communities as well as environment in southern Thailand.