TO dig or not to dig has long been a burning question
surrounding the Kra Canal project. The debate surfaced again at a
lively seminar focussing on the influence of the sea on the economy.
The issue of whether or not the country should be cut in half by a
canal appears to have as many supporters as opponents.
The first records of such a project appeared during the reign of
King Narai of Ayudhya in 1677. At that time, the king studied the
possibility of digging the canal with shovels. Due to concerns over
security, the idea has gone nowhere since.
The project to create an international passageway across the Kra
isthmus in southern Thailand became a controversial issue again when
Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh planned to dust off the project when he
was prime minister a couple of years ago. Chavalit reasoned that the
Kra isthmus would help jump-start the economy by introducing a new
dynamism along the waterway.
The idea immediately provoked a heated debate across the nation,
led by those with the traditional view that the waterway -- in a
similar way to the Suez and Panama canals -- will geographically
divide the nation, raising concerns of secession later on. Some
opponents raised concerns that the Thai government may not be able
to cover the costs involved in creating the waterway. In addition,
strong opposition to the plan is expected from non-government
organisations (NGO) concerned
about the environment.
canal has never been a commitment in any government. Just
because of "Corrupted Government" and "Bad habits of Commitee"
How sad! I heard about this project when I was young. Until
now there is no sign to make it a reality. Just abstract.
Maybe when all of dinosaur potilicians die, it becomes true,
At a seminar organised by the Southeast Asian Programme in Ocean
Law, Policy and Management (Seapol), Vice Adm Somboon Sukapun,
Deputy Chief of Staff, Royal Thai Army, said
the project would help Thailand enhance its power over the sea.
He quoted Sir Walter Raleigh of the British Navy (1552-1618):
''Whosoever commands the sea, commands the trade. Whosoever commands
the trade of the world, commands the riches of the world and
consequently the world itself.'' Britain then followed up this
statement to take over as the leading world power in the 1800s
through its international maritime commercial activities.
What is so important about Kra isthmus, a small waterway
calculated to run up to 12 kilometres, in Prachuap Khiri Khan? With
its location at the centre of the world's air and marine
transportation routes, only Kra isthmus could beat Singapore as a
famous destination and short-cut through the Straits of Malacca.
''That's the reason why the Global Transpark Project will be set
up at U-Tapao in Thailand. It is the world's most important
strategic point. This is also the case for the Kra Canal,'' he
The House sub-committee on military affairs has expressed strong
interest in this project. Earlier this month, Somboon said he
testified to the committee that the project should generate at least
Bt160 billion a year.
Some members of the committee asked if the project would threaten
security in the southern part of Thailand. Somboon said he thought
the project would be beneficial for the country's security since it
would balance the economic power among the key economies which
participated in the Kra waterway project. China, Japan, Malaysia,
Germany and France are among the countries which expressed
investment interest in the project, he claimed.
Vichai Punpocha, general manager, Bangkok branch and country
manager, Dresdner Bank, said that the government may choose outside
sources of finance for the project. Vichai cited the case of the
British government's use of foreign loans to finance its North Sea
oil exploration project.
Vichai said he thought that investors would be willing to
participate in a viable project such as the Kra Canal.
The canal should also fit in with the government policy of
investing in infrastructure to stimulate growth.
Sarin Skulratana, secretary-general of the Office of the Maritime
Promotion Commission, Ministry of
Communications, said he personally supported the Kra Canal
project. He said that the real benefit of the project will arise
from the development of industries along the waterway.
He admitted that he thought that it will be difficult for the
project to get off the ground because of the tense debate it has
Samak Sundaravej, an opposition MP, said if the government fails
to produce a reliable preliminary study, the Kra Canal project is
unlikely to materialise, given its sensitivity as a political issue.
He proposed a preliminary feasibility study which will require an
He also said that many Thais have a wrong perception that the Kra
Canal project would create a 12-kilometre waterway cutting across
the Kingdom's narrowest point. In fact, the project would end up
creating an adjoining 90-kilometre waterway along the Thai-Burmese
Dr Kamonchanok Suthiwartnarueput, director, Merchant Marine
University, questioned the project's viability.
She also questioned whether the project would cause serious
environmental and resident resettlement problems.
Admiral Thanom Charoenlaph, senior adviser of the Thailand
Institute of Marine Affairs Development, said the government may
draw up terms of reference for the project to help those doing
feasibility studies associated with the canal.
The terms of reference would be drafted according to the public
hearing by setting, for example, the standard for environmental
protection with which the investors will have to comply.
Dr Prapon Phasukyud, of Thailand's Engineering Institute, said
the arguments over the years have led to public confusion.
''We wasted too much energy debating with each other rather than
establishing certain provisions to prove whether the project is
feasible or not,'' he said, while stressing the importance of public
participation from the beginning.
The initial terms of reference includes the sovereignty over the
canal, the utilisation of Thai labour and construction materials,
environmental concerns and revenue-sharing schemes.
With regard to sovereignty over the canal, Vichai cited an
example from the Kiel canal
in Germany in which the British government once tried to assume
ownership after World War II. The German government won the case by
citing the international law which stipulates that the canal should
belong to the country where it is situated.
The story is prepared by JEERAWAT NA THALANG and