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Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Thailand sets target of 2028 to end high-speed rail links with China

Thailand’s recent pledge to finish a high-speed rail line connecting China via Laos within six years is raising doubts about the country’s commitment and whether the $12 billion megaproject will pay off.

Officials from the ministries of transport and foreign affairs told reporters on July 6 that Thailand would complete a 609-kilometre line from the capital, Bangkok, to the Lao border to Nong Khai, which is now only 5% built by 2028. Nong Khai is across the Mekong River. The Lao capital of Vientiane, where a high-speed train to the Lao-China border began service in December.

With trains operating at a maximum speed of 250 km/h, the new line will dismantle the time taken for Bangkok–Nong Khai travel on existing standard-gauge tracks.

Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo (R) is shown shaking hands with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (L) at Merdeka Palace in Jakarta, in this handout issued by the Presidential Palace on July 11, 2022. (Photo by Rusman / Presidential Palace of Indonesia / AFP)

The 2028 announcement came a day after Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha and Foreign Affairs Minister Don Pramudwinai in Bangkok. A Thai foreign ministry statement on Wang’s visit said the meeting included talks on the “Thailand-Laos-China Connectivity Development Corridor”.

The project is part of Beijing’s long-term plan to connect China’s Yunnan province with the bustling ports of Singapore, a high-speed high-speed cut through Laos, Thailand and Malaysia, a key part of its grand Belt and Road initiative. through trains.

cautious commitment

When Thailand began planning its part of the line with China a decade ago, the goal was to do so by about the same time that Laos expanded its own 414 kilometer, said Ruth Banomong, professor of international trade, transportation and logistics. at Thammasat University in Thailand, told VOA. But with that goal long abandoned, he said top government transport officials were still not attending a symposium on a new target last month, which he announced on July 6 was “a bit confusing.”

Ruth said the new target was viable, but may be more of a political statement than a “technical one”, keeping an eye on next year’s national elections and Prayut’s unstable coalition government looking increasingly unstable.

“The Prime Minister is probably at his lowest in various matters” [opinion] The elections are out, and he wants to stay in power, but he needs to show something for himself,” Ruth said. “So, he needs to put this project in the public eye again,” it says. That, oh yeah, it’s going to happen.”

He added that growing frustration in Beijing with Thailand’s pace of progress may also have played a part in the announcement.

“The fact that this has been announced after a meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi makes it seem like they are at least feeling some pressure on what it looks like to go ahead with the project,” Greg Raymond, a lecturer at the Australian National University studying China’s growing ties with mainland Southeast Asia.

“But when you look at the pattern of [Thailand’s] Decision making, patterns of action… the degree of commitment has to be questioned,” he said.

Analysts say the line, once completed, will help connect some of Southeast Asia’s largest and most dynamic economies to the landlocked south of China, providing a much-needed boost to the underdeveloped region.

File - A Map Showing China'S Silk Road Economic Belt And The 21St Century Maritime Silk Road, Or The So-Called 'One Belt, One Road' Megaproject, Is Displayed At The Asian Financial Forum In Hong Kong, China On January 18, 2016.  ,

FILE – A map showing China’s Silk Road economic belt and the 21st century Maritime Silk Road, or the so-called ‘One Belt, One Road’ megaproject, is displayed at the Asian Financial Forum in Hong Kong, China on January 18, 2016. ,

As with much of the Belt and Road Initiative, Raymond said, it also builds on Beijing’s broader goal of creating a regional economy centered on China and to maintain that position by turning other countries’ foreign policies to their will. He pointed to the cancellation of Thailand’s plans years ago to host NASA’s climate change monitoring program, which he said was probably because China would not want to put something so close. At the same time, he said, connecting southern China to some of mainland Southeast Asia’s main ports would ease pressure on China’s important maritime trade routes in the event of conflict.

“If there is a conflict between China and the United States, I think one of the weak things about China is the blockade of China. [U.S. Navy’s] 7th Fleet, especially in the Straits of Malacca, so I think there is such a strategic imperative,” Raymond said.

cost and benefit

For Thailand, the new line could mean more exports and investments from China.

Ruth, however, said that it would take decades, if not decades, for the $12 billion project to pay for itself, and only if the government invests in the additional freight and passenger services needed to bring out the line’s full potential. Done right, he said, the line could also inspire new growth and development along its route through Thailand’s rural northeast.

But Ruth said the government has yet to share its forecasts for key factors such as passenger numbers or freight traffic, making a difficult assessment of the project impossible.

“What we see is that a lot of these forecasts are very, very optimistic, and that is why you sometimes end up with white elephants… So it’s really a risk,” he warned. ,

Brian Tse, an analyst for Southeast Asia at the Economist Intelligence Unit, said the focus of the high-speed train line, for now, is on passengers, not freight, downplaying the possibility that Thailand will be $$ in 10 or 20 years. 12 billion could be returned. , If the main goal was to boost freight traffic, he said China would probably focus on upgrading the already regular railroad network in Southeast Asia, which would be cheaper.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the project has to pay for Thailand directly in other ways, Tse said.

He said, “If doing this railway means you get the good will of the Chinese government…

File - Thailand'S Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha Stands Next To A Model Of A High Speed Rail During The Cornerstone Ceremony Of Cooperation Between Thailand And China On Bangkok-Nong Khai High Speed Rail Development In Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand, December 21, 2017.

FILE – Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha stands next to a model of a high-speed rail during the cornerstone ceremony of cooperation between Thailand and China on the Bangkok-Nong Khai high-speed rail development in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand, December 21, 2017.

Still, analysts say Thailand will remain hesitant about the project; $12 billion is a lot, and the additional strain the pandemic has put on the country’s economy will only make it harder for Laos to proceed on the line, not to mention any high-speed lines that will eventually run from Bangkok to Malaysia. can be made in the south. ,

Raymond said Thailand is also wary of any moves, including a high-speed rail line, that could pull China too close for comfort.

“They really don’t want to get into a Beijing-centric economy if they think it’s going to curtail their freedom of maneuver,” he said. “They’re always trying to balance their relationships; they don’t want to be too dependent on any of them. It’s classic hedging behavior, but it’s very strong with Thailand.”

Now that Laos is done with its stretch of the line, analysts agreed that China can turn its attention seeing that Thailand picks up pace.

Whatever his reservations, Raymond said, his Thai teammates “may finally feel like they have to.”

This article is republished from – Voa News – Read the – original article.`

World Nation News Desk
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