The Kra Isthmus Canal – Just a Distant Pipedream?
Article from Hua Hin Today Newspaper (July 2014)
The Kra Isthmus Canal would constitute a mega-project, a passageway that would connect the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand at the Isthmus of Kra, Thailand. An isthmus is a narrow strip of land connecting two larger land areas, in this case the narrow ‘neck’ of Thailand heading south with the provinces of Petchaburi, Prachuap Khiri Khan and Chumphon featuring. Although the proposal is projected to provide many economic and trade benefits to Thailand and to the region as a whole, steps toward its development have been problematic. Apart from financing issues, there has been much debate over the costs for trade, the costs for the environment, national and regional security concerns as well as major concerns related to political and economic relationships in the region.
The current trade route to the Indian Ocean from the South China Sea is past Singapore and through the Malacca Strait. It has the problems of pirates, shipwrecks, haze, sediment and shoals. Its rate of accidents is twice as high as the Suez Canal and four times higher than the Panama Canal. An alternative shorter route is to build a canal connection somewhere south of Chumphon. It would save shipping costs and time as the route is shorter by 1,000 km. The 100 km artificial link would benefit not only China and ASEAN, but also Japan and other countries’ world trade. Mooted throughout Thailand’s history, the Thai Canal project is an infrastructure project that has been at the conceptual development phase for more than three centuries.
The project was conceived back in 1677. Until the 19th century, technology constraints made it impossible for the project to proceed. Toward the end of the 19th century, it became technically feasible with several proposals made by France and Britain during the reigns of King Rama IV and V. The 20th Century saw several attempts made to bring the project back, but came to an end every time for one of three main reasons: lack of funding, national security, and changes of government.