Thailand has denied reports that a deal has been signed with China to build a canal across the south of the country allowing ships to bypass the Malacca Straits.
“It’s nothing to do with the government,” Chula Sukmanop, Director-General of the Office of Transport and Traffic Policy and Planning told IHS Maritime on 19 May. “It comes from someone trying to push the government.”
Thailand’s transport and foreign affairs ministries have also denied that the Thai and Chinese governments have signed the deal, as media reports from China had suggested.
The Kra Canal would allow ships coming from the Indian Ocean to bypass the crowded Straits of Malacca in accessing the Gulf of Thailand.
Plans to build a canal across the Thai peninsula have circulated before, but interest has been countered by the potential cost of the project.
One reliable source has estimated the project costs USD28 billion and argued it would take a minimum of 10 years to build.
There is a Kra Canal Committee in Thailand that comprises businessmen and former government officials who research the viability of building the canal. However, no Thai government has officially initiated the scheme.
Although several Thai Prime Ministers since the 1930s have suggested building the Kra Canal as an alternative shipping lane to the Straits of Malacca, the plan has never been realised due to its enormous cost and possible damage to the communities, as well as the environment in southern Thailand.