Sino-Thai rail on track for October start

By Chu Daye Source:Global Times Published: 2017/8/20 20:23:40

Experts warn of risk from politics, terrorism, external influence

A conductor waves a green flag as a Bangkok-bound train leaves the station in Chachoengsao, a provincial town about an hour by train from Bangkok in May. Photo: IC

After many delays, construction of a Sino-Thai rail project should be able to start by October, Chinese experts said on Sunday, after that timeframe was suggested by Thai Ambassador to China Piriya Khempon. But the experts also warned that construction could be still hindered by factors such as political instability.

Piriya said in an interview with the People's Daily newspaper on Saturday that contracts for the project will be signed during Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha's visit to China in early September, paving way for construction to begin in October.

Piriya said that the railway is only the start of bilateral cooperation, which Thailand expects to involve more sectors including ports and aviation.

China and Thailand have agreed on two contracts worth 5.2 billion baht ($156 million) in design and supervision fees for the 250-kilometer Bangkok-Nakhon Ratchasima rail project, the Bangkok Post reported Saturday.

The project had a groundbreaking ceremony in December 2015, but it has been held up by delays.

Experts said the early fruition of this project will benefit the Thai people.

Xu Liping, an expert on Southeast Asia at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the railway project would be an important example and new development model for the development of the Thai economy.

"Many Thais have never seen or experienced China's advanced railway technology, led by high-speed bullet trains. If the project is completed, the Thai people can actually ride on Chinese trains and get the real benefits of modern-day train travel. That will speak louder than anything," Xu told the Global Times Sunday.

It is important to let Chinese technology and talent take hold at the ground level in a slow but steady manner, Xu noted. 

Chu Yin, an associate professor at the University of International Relations, said the railway is likely to have a similar economic impact in Thailand as it did in China's coastal areas.

"The geography and population density of Thailand means the country is a superb place to see a success story in which railways drive development. Compared with low population density areas such as Central and West Asia, Southeast Asia, with its growth momentum, is more likely to see economic benefits from rail systems," Chu told the Global Times Sunday.

The railway will also have a positive impact on Thailand's underdeveloped regions, noted Chu.

"The railway will provide a new spur for the development of Thailand's tourism and industries. The development of commercial properties is a key component of the way China develops its own high-speed railways," Xu said.

He noted that such a model can be replicated in Thailand and for example new industrial parks can be developed along the rail line. "This would be positive for the Thai economy," Xu said.

The Sino-Thai rail project, along with other Chinese railway projects in Laos and Malaysia, will serve as shining examples of cooperation between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and boost regional connectivity, noted Xu.

Xu said that the development shows the political will of Prayut's administration, while Chu said the timing comes as the political faction led by Prayut has cemented its success in political struggles against the faction that supports Thailand's former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Chu said that construction of the railway still faces potential obstacles from several directions.

"Political instability, with rival political factions in the south and north of Thailand could still derail the railway's construction. Terrorism in the south of the country could be another potential threat," Chu said.

"The influence of the US, which is Thailand's ally, the business interests of the Japanese, and the fact that Thailand prefers the art of balancing powers, could be other reasons grounding the railway project," noted Chu.

Seemingly minor issues - such as requiring Chinese engineers who assist railway construction in Thailand to acquire Thai certificates first - are just excuses for these underlying roadblocks, he noted.


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