Panya Chupanich, the director of the Office of Transport and Traffic Policy and Planning (OTP), reported that the Cabinet has given its approval for the Transport Ministry’s ambitious initiative to transform Thailand into a significant maritime logistics hub through the land bridge project. Furthermore, the Cabinet has directed the ministry to conduct international presentations aimed at inviting foreign investors to participate in the project bidding process, according to Panya.
This project, which has been a topic of discussion among different administrations for forty years, seeks to establish a connection between the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand, with a particular focus on the provinces of Ranong and Chumphon. The primary goal behind this initiative is to lower logistics expenses by circumventing congestion in the Malacca Strait.
Furthermore, the Thai government intends to launch an international promotional campaign next year to garner foreign investment for this endeavor. The estimated cost of the project currently stands at approximately 1.4 trillion baht, with pending approval for Environmental and Health Impact assessments (EHIA). Additionally, the Office of Transport and Traffic Policy and Planning has proposed a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA).
Thailand’s Prime Minister, Srettha Thavisin, engaged in discussions regarding the project during his visit to China on October 20th and also held talks with Saudi Arabian investors during his one-day visit to Saudi Arabia on October 21st. The proposed land bridge project in Thailand holds great promise for various sectors, including contractors, industrial estates, transportation, and finance.
History of the project
The first suggestion of uniting the two seas in Thailand dates back to 1677 when Thai monarch Narai the Great, who reigned during the Ayutthaya Kingdom, proposed the idea. This visionary concept emerged nearly two centuries before the Suez Canal, which transformed European maritime trade by connecting Africa and Asia. King Narai had already envisaged a canal running through the Isthmus of Kra, long before such projects became a reality.
In his pursuit of this ambitious canal project, Narai the Great reached out to the French for assistance. The French government responded by sending an engineer to assess the project’s feasibility by surveying the proposed location. Regrettably, the engineer’s evaluation indicated that the construction of the canal was not a viable undertaking. Subsequently, King Narai decided to abandon the project.
Nevertheless, the allure of this concept endured, and from 1843 to 1883, both Britain and France conducted multiple investigations aimed at finding a feasible method to create a maritime channel of communication that could connect the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea. The construction of such a canal would have aligned with the colonial interests of both these nations in the region.
The notion remained a source of interest for nations and corporations throughout the 20th century, but financial constraints hampered its realization. Ultimately, in 2021, the Thai government introduced a fresh proposal, suggesting a “Thai Land Bridge” instead of the Kra Canal.
Experts have noted that interest in the Kra Canal or land bridge tends to grow during periods of concern about Thailand’s economic stability. The project is expected to generate 280,000 jobs in the southern regions of Ranong and Chumpon, and according to the state planning agency’s calculations, it has the potential to boost annual economic growth to 5.5%, as reported by a recent Reuters article. Presently, Thailand’s economic growth is projected to be 2.8% in 2023 and 4.4% in the following year, as stated in the report.
Hence, the envisioned land bridge project has the potential to stimulate economic growth by opening up fresh prospects for various sectors, ultimately establishing Thailand as a significant transit hub within the region. Nevertheless, since the project’s specific details are currently limited, the realization of these advantages hinges on the government’s capacity to successfully materialize this initiative.