BANGKOK: Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha on Tuesday (Jan 12) stressed that his government will not pursue the Kra Canal project after a member of the King’s Privy Council wrote an open letter to the government over the weekend, advocating for the canal's construction.
Privy Councillor Thanin Kraivichien, 88, was the 14th Prime Minister of Thailand between October 1976 and October 1977. He is familiar with the Kra Canal feasibility studies conducted by foreign consultants during his time in various public offices in the 1970s.
Privy Councillor Thanin Kraivichien, 88, wrote an open letter to the government over the weekend, advocating for the canal's construction.
In his public letter to Prime Minister Prayut, the third letter he has written since the military coup in 2014, Thanin called on the government to build a strong network of merchant marine facilities as part of an overall strategy to make the country the region’s logistics hub. He said the construction of the Kra Canal would help complement this goal.
The idea for a canal - similar to the Suez and Panama canals - that cuts through the Kra Isthmus in southern Thailand, bypassing the Strait of Malacca, has been around since the 17th Century.
During the Cold War, the project was mooted on many occasions but past governments saw the project as a national security risk, fearing that a canal could partition the country’s south that was then plagued by a Communist insurgency.
Thanin said in his letter that the political context has now changed and that Thailand would miss out on becoming part of a new global trade route if the present government did not reconsider the construction of the Kra Canal.
He called for more studies to be conducted, highlighting that the Kra Canal could cut transportation costs and time for international shipping, and could help make Thailand a new entrepot as maritime trade is being expanded in the region by China.
Thanin’s call is part of a growing chorus of Kra Canal proponents in Thailand’s political and business communities that started publicly early last year.
Several Chinese firms have expressed interest in building the canal, the cost for which has been estimated at some US$28 billion.
Logistics experts, however, said the massive project is unrealistic and costly, requiring the creation of land bridges over the proposed canal to link both sides with roads, rails, and oil pipelines, and the construction of new ports in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Thailand.
The Thai government is currently banking on building a massive deep-sea port, oil refinery, and industrial estate in the town of Dawei in Myanmar’s southern Tanintayi region, which is located 250km from Bangkok. The Dawei project, which spans nearly 200 square kilometres, is set to be Thailand’s new gateway to the Indian Ocean in three decades’ time.
Responding to Thanin’s call for the project, Prime Minister Prayut said his government has no time to look into it because they are currently busy addressing more pending problems and issues. Instead, he said the Kra Canal project should be looked into by democratic governments in the future.