Activist notes lack of proper study on Thai Canal as forum opens

May 07, 2017 01:00

A LOCAL activist in the South has warned that the Thai Canal mega-project only provided one-sided information to local people and there was still no clear study on the impact of this project.

A study team has set up a public forum to promote the project in many provinces. The Thai Canal Study Group and the Thai-Chinese Trade and Industry Association yesterday held a public forum on the project, which will cut through the Malay Peninsula in the South from Trang to Songkhla and link the Andaman Sea with the Gulf of Thailand in Trang. The forum claimed the project would generate huge income to the country and solve the traffic problem in the Malacca Strait.

An activist in Phatthalung, Senee Jawisut, said that the plan to build the Thai Canal has been progressing quietly in four provinces – Trang, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Phatthalung, and Songkhla – through which it could run. But as the emphasis was only on positive aspects of the project, locals may be convinced to agree with it, without realising the adverse impacts, he said.

“The Thai Canal is a gigantic project. It will surely have tremendous impacts on the environment and the people to a degree where the impact would not be reversible. But there is still no study about the impact and the people are only informed about the benefits from the project,” Senee said.

“A project of this scale must have a proper study, which must be publicised to all people, so we can discuss the pros and cons properly.”

The forum in Trang was told the project would consist of two parallel canals. Each canal will be 140 km long, 400 metres wide and 30 metres deep. Development projects would also be undertaken on both sides to serve as a transportation centre with deep-sea water ports. The budget was estimated at around Bt1.68 trillion.

General Phongthep Thetprateeb, chairman of the study committee and secretary-general of the Prem Tinsulanonda Statesman Foundation, said if the project gets the green light Thailand would have a lot of advantages. The Kingdom would also get backing from neighbouring countries as others will also benefit from it.

The information from the forum indicated estimated income from the project would be Bt120 billion per year and the project could reduce the navigation route around the Malay Peninsula by 700km. But he admitted the impacts were still unknown, so they would conduct studies to see if it was worth deploying resources for this profitable project. A preliminary study had been finished, but a full study would take three years to finish.

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The first attempt dated back in 1677 during the reign of King Narai the Great of Ayutthaya, the former capital of Thailand. De Lamar, a French engineer, was hired to conduct a feasibility study for a canal that would cut through the Malay Peninsula connecting Songkhla and Myiek. The project was shelved due to the lack of technology to complete the project. Similar idea resurfaced a decade after Bangkok became the capital. The canal was proposed to facilitate naval ship movements and strengthen the defence of country’s western coast.

There were several attempts to construct the canal during 19th century. British East India company conducted a survey but abandoned the project after it was proven financially unfeasible due to mountainous geography. Ferdinand de Lesseps, a developer of Suez Canal, visited Kra Isthmus but was not permitted to explore the area in detail. British Empire later decided not to build a canal to reinforce the dominance of Singapore as a transport hub. The intent also reflected in the 1946 Anglo-Thai Treaty almost five decades later.

In the late 20th century, the Executive Intelligence Review or EIR, an American weekly newsmagazine, the Fusion Energy Foundation, an American think tank, and several Japanese firms suggested using atomic bombs to make ways through the mountains. The canal gained interest again after 1997 Asian financial crisis. Global Infrastructure Fund estimated a cost for the construction of the canal at 20 billion US dollars. The most recent interest on the project came from Yingluck Shinawatra’s government.

However, the canal project presents too many obstacles. One of the problems is the geographical feature of Malay peninsula. Tenasserim Range runs along Myanmar and Thailand border to the southern tip of the peninsula. The highest point of the mountain chain is 75 metres high compare to 64 metres in Gaillard Cut in Panama. The distance of Thai Canal varies from 50 to 100 kilometres depending on where the canal would be constructed whereas the distance of Panama Canal is 77 kilometres.

Financial feasibility and return on investment of the project is another problem. The construction of the project would require a large sum of financial investment but would not yield as much financial return as Panama or Suez Canal. Thai Canal would save approximately1000 kilometres around the Malay Peninsula while Panama Canal saves nearly 8,000 kilometres around South America  and Suez Canal saves more than 9,000 kilometres around Africa.

However, the biggest concern in constructing a canal through Malay Peninsula is the effect it would have on international relations between Thailand and other countries, especially Malaysia and Singapore. The canal would benefit Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam, India and China but it would divert most of the traffic between Indian Ocean and South China Sea from the pirate-dominated Strait of Malacca to the canal. This would lead to a huge profit loss in Malaysia and Singapore.

The insurgency in Thailand’s southern border provinces is also raising concerns about the project geopolitically. The ongoing conflict started over a decade ago and have taken more than 6,000 lives and injured more than 10,000 people. The separatist groups in the Muslim-majority region want to gain independence from the country. Cutting a canal through the country is considered a bad omen by many Thais because it would separate southern Thailand from rest of the country.

go west infographics

Since the canal has proven to be a far fetched dream for Thailand, Dawei seaport was proposed. The idea of Dawei SEZ was brought up in 2006 during the government of Thaksin Shinawatra, an ousted prime minister, of which the southern insurgency has occurred. Located 350 kilometres directly west Bangkok, Dawei is the nearest point from Bangkok and the Eastern Seaboard to the Andaman Sea. It seems like a logical solution to go west through Myanmar to reach the Indian Ocean.

Despite all the benefits, Dawei seaport and road link will not replace an oil transport route between the Middle East and East Asia. Moreover, although the port can save travel time to reach Indian Ocean from Bangkok, it requires a transfer via road or rail to the port. If the canal were to be built, it would save more cost in transport. So the conversation and the possibility of constructing a canal bypassing the Malay Peninsula will not be eliminated and might gain interest again in the future.

Dawei SEZ has been stalled in past several years because the parties involved were unclear with the direction of the project and because many villagers were affected by the relocation of their homes. However, the project could become a reality in the near future. Japan, a sole investor in Thilawa SEZ, has agreed to recommit to the Dawei project. Thailand and Myanmar will again meet during 25th ASEAN Summit on November 12 and 13 to further move the project forward. Source

Kra Canal Project Is Moving Ahead


Thailand: Pakdee Tanapura


Pakdee Tanapura is the international director and acting spokesman of the Board of Directors of the International Executive Committee for the Study of the Kra Canal Project in Bangkok.

Good morning. I’m Pakdee Tanapura from Bangkok, Thailand. I’ve been working on the Kra Canal for the past 30 years. We started to work on this megaproject, linking the canal across the south of Thailand, in 1983, and at that time, Lyndon LaRouche came to Bangkok and we organized a big conference. That big conference was with the participation of the Minister of Transport and Communications, Mr. Samak Sundaravej, along with other Thai elites, and many MPs, many senators, and other important participants.

Also at that time, we had the participation of the GIF Japan, the Global Infrastructure Fund foundation, by Dr. [Masaki] Nakajima and Dr. [Norio] Yomomoto. Also we had the participation from the U.S. side, of some American scientists working on the utilization of nuclear explosives, that would help reduce the cost of the construction by about 40%.

Also, we had the participation of many ASEAN country members, important persons like Dr. Roeslan Abdulgani, chairman of the advisory team to President Suharto of Indonesia, and Dr. Zainuddin Bahari of the Malaysian Institute for Strategic and International Studies.

We also had the participation of some former ambassadors from India, who had been stationed in Thailand for a while, and also were in support of the Kra Canal. So, it was a very big conference.

v3-kra_canal_map.jpgView full size

And with that, we also started to organize the Kra Canal, and we planned to have pre-feasibility studies; that means we wanted to revive the studies by TAMS, the engineering firm from the United States. We picked that up, and we wanted to revive it and make a pre-feasibility study, with the participation of the Minister of Transport and Communications, Mr. Samak.

So that was done, but unfortunately, Mr. Samak did not stay in his position. After a while, he had to resign, so that the Kra Canal did not take off, because the funding which was supposed to be allocated by the GIF and some parts of the participants, did not come. They were not allocated properly, so we did not have enough funds to do the pre-feasibility studies.

The Kra Canal vs. the Strait of Malacca.

Lately, Thaksin has put in his Facebook about his reflections when he visited Port Klang in Malaysia, in the Malacca Strait. He said that Thailand could develop a Kra Canal, that would undermine shipping in the Malacca Strait—which is wrong, anyway, since we think that by the year 2020, if we construct the Kra Canal, there would something like 144,000 ships going through the Malacca Strait every year, which is an average of 3.6 minutes per ship. I mean, that’s massive. So, we are in need of the Kra Canal, as well as the Malacca Strait, to allow the flow of maritime transport in this area. Source


The separation of a country derives from political problems, it does not necessarily always stem from an actual physical separation. The physical configuration of countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines is made up of an archipelago of islands. The Philippines, composed of thousands of islands, is still considered by the international community as one country. Digging a Kra Canal is not going to separate Thailand nor is it going to cause the country to lose its sovereignty. The Kiel Canal, for example, situated in the northern part of Germany, was completed in 1887. In 1918, after Germany had lost World War I, England and France, the victorious countries, sought to set up an international committee to survey operations at the Kiel Canal. However, the United States did not agree, arguing that the Kiel Canal is located inside German territory, is under its national jurisdiction and is not a waterway passing through the territories of many countries. (2)
In the same way, the Kra Canal would be built across Thailand. It will not be a waterway passing through the territories of many countries. This means that once it is built, it would come strictly under the sole jurisdiction and sovereignty of Thailand. The division and separation of a country mostly stem from political problems, as can be seen in the cases of North and South Korea, North and South Vietnam, etc. and not from any geophysical configuration. Separatist problems in the three most-southern provinces of Thailand date back to the history of the region. The development of a Kra Canal, on the contrary, would create national unity and strengthen national security.


In the report entitled “The Kra Canal and Thai Security,” a Master’s thesis written by First Lieutenant Amornthep Thongsin (military decoration at that time). The thesis was submitted to the U.S. Naval Academy, Monterrey, California, U.S.A. and accepted in 2002. In his thesis, First Lieutenant Amornthep wrote that the top brass of the Thai military did not consider the Kra Canal Project a threat to the national security of Thailand in any way.
“Many former Navy officers have voiced their support for this project (building the Kra Canal – author of this article) as it would enhance Thailand’s sea power. For this reason, the project would therefore strengthen national security.” (4)
At present, Thailand has four naval bases: Bangkok, Sattahip, Songkhla and Phangna. With a coastline of 3,219 kms., its naval fleet consisting of 160 vessels of various types (figures from 2002) is not sufficient to efficiently guard the long coastline. The Royal Thai Navy has dockyards in Bangkok and at Sattahip, both of them in the Gulf of Thailand. Vessels operating out of Phangna Naval Base on the Andaman Sea and vessels belonging to Frigate Squadron One as well as those of the Coastal Patrol Squadron are on regular duty patrolling the Andaman Sea Coastline for a period of one year before re-joining their home fleet. The Phangna Naval Base finds itself often in a very precarious situation. When in need of urgent repair work, these vessels have to return to the Bangkok dockyard for service.



Related post:


Kra Canal in Southern Thailand


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