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Grand canal is a vision of the future

Updated: 2015-08-24 09:49
By David Gosset (China Daily)

Grand canal is a vision of the future

The plan to build a huge waterway in Thailand would help stimulate regional and global trade

China's Belt and Road Initiative will gradually reshape Eurasia, but within this grand vision of a new Silk Road, it is the construction of the Kra Canal in southern Thailand that could have the greatest impact.

No official announcement has been made on the realization of this gigantic infrastructure project, but some analysts and business insiders are expressing support for a waterway that would connect the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand at the latitude of the Kra Isthmus, the narrowest part of the Malay Peninsula in southern Thailand.

The canal, which would cost at least $30 billion, about 8 percent of Thailand's GDP, and take 10 years to build, would not only create jobs in the country and beyond, but also facilitate global trade and stand as a symbol of international collaboration.

An artificial channel connecting the Indian Ocean and the Far East would affect the geopolitical dynamics of Southeast Asia, but it would not have to be detrimental to the core interests of Singapore, whose proximity to the Strait of Malacca has been an element of its success.

In the context of rapidly growing economic exchanges between Asia, western Eurasia and Africa, the Kra Canal would not be a substitute for the Strait of Malacca but a necessary complement. A quarter of internationally traded goods crossing the Strait of Malacca have congested the stretch of water between the Malay peninsula and Sumatra. As China heads toward becoming the world's largest economy, the opening of another trading conduit closer to continental Southeast Asia is the answer to an objective need.

In the long term, the flourishing economy of Thailand would not hurt any member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, but the prosperity of 67 million Thai people would enrich an increasingly important grouping.

By shortening the distance between the Indian Ocean and the Far East by more than 1,000 kilometers, the Kra Canal would benefit international business. It would also create new opportunities for the countries located close to the new route. In shaping a general diplomatic environment favorable to the realization of the artificial waterway, the options offered to Myanmar and Vietnam should be studied and emphasized.

It is little surprise that in Thailand there are some who are not swayed by the idea of the canal. You cannot expect a complex project to generate unanimity in a society known for frequent internal squabbles, but a properly thought-out and explained plan would win the support of the great majority who care about their country's future.

If Thais want to better understand how the canal could benefit their country they could do no better than studying the benefits that the Suez Canal delivered to Egypt. With special economic zones integrated south and north of the canal, Thailand could enter one of the most prosperous periods of its long history. Far from exacerbating existing tensions in southern Thailand, the Kra Canal would have the opposite effect, rebalancing the distribution of Thailand's economy. The capital, Bangkok, accounts for 30 percent of the country's economic output.

Rather than dividing Egypt, the Suez Canal plays a unifying role, the Al Salam Peace Bridge that crosses it at El Quantara linking Africa and Eurasia. Similarly, a bridge over the Kra Canal would ensure the continuity of transport on the north-south axis of the Malay Peninsula.

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