BANGKOK – Thai Transport Ministry Officials are denying media reports that the Government has signed an agreement with China to construct a shipping canal through the Kra Isthmus that could allow ships to bypass the Straits of Malacca.
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 realized, 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. 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.