BANGKOK – Thailand’s deputy prime minister said yesterday that China has decided against a much-hyped plan to build a high-speed railway running through Thailand, and instead opted for a medium-speed alternative that can support cargo transport.
Despite reports about issues over the project’s funding and possible delays, Pridiyathorn Devakula said construction of the dual-track mid-speed system would likely start in November – although Thai authorities are still weighing funding options.
The project – consisting of two lines linking southern China’s Kunming city to northeast Thailand’s Nong Khai – had been touted as part of Beijing’s high-speed railway diplomacy to further project its economic power in the region.
Until December, when Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visited Thailand, Chinese state media still referred to the project as a high-speed railway.
The decision to build a standard gauge, mid-speed line was unexpected, prompting some to describe it as a setback to China’s high-speed railway ambition.
Devakula said Thailand was “convinced” by China to go for slower trains.
“We invited them to do high-speed [railways], but they chose to do medium speed … because they want to have cargo transport as well,” he said in an interview in Hong Kong. “It’s a choice of China, not a choice of Thailand.”
Reports said the two sides had yet to reach an agreement on funding as Thailand considers the interest rate offered by China’s Export-Import (Exim) Bank too high.
The former Bank of Thailand governor also denied reports Bangkok and Beijing had struck a deal to build a canal that would cut through Kra Isthmus to shorten shipping journeys. Instead, Devakula said his government was mulling a plan to build a pipeline – potentially from the southern Satun province to Song Khla province – to facilitate oil transport to East Asian countries.