Thailand Pushes ‘Land Bridge’ to Speed Trade

21 December 2023

Thailand is looking for investment to build a "land bridge" across the narrow southern part of the country. The Southeast Asian nation hopes to provide a shorter path for cargo between the Pacific and Indian oceans without having to go through the Malacca Strait and Singapore.

Under the plan, cargo would travel by highway and railroad from the area of Chumpon on the Gulf of Thailand to Ranong on the Indian Ocean to be loaded onto waiting ships.

Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin has been seeking support for the $28-billion project from investors around the world. At the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) gathering in San Francisco, Srettha said the land bridge would connect the oceans "without requiring ships to sail down along the tip of Singapore, known to experience congestion and would cut transport duration." He called it a "very important project, not just for Thailand, but also for the world."

Thailand is looking for investment to build a land bridge across its southern neck, which would cut cargo transit times.
Thailand is looking for investment to build a "land bridge" across its southern neck, which would cut cargo transit times.

Thailand says it is open to interest from all investors. After a meeting with Japanese businesses and leaders, Srettha said there was interest in the project without providing additional information. Thai transport minister Suriya Juangroongruangkit said more than 10 American companies expressed interest without naming them.

China's interest in the area

China, an important trade nation in the area, has not commented on the plan for the land bridge.

For many years, Chinese businesses have been pushing for a deepwater project called the Kra Canal. The canal would cross the Kra Isthmus and would permit large ships to pass. The proposed project would cut at least one day of sailing time from passing through the Malacca Strait.

Former Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha set up a Chinese-supported center to study the canal idea. But it has never started because of the cost and possible environmental damage.

Sompong Putivisutisak, a professor at Chulalongkorn University, has studied the land bridge proposal. Sompong said, "(China) won't give away its position that easily until it sees the other investors."

He told VOA there are two reasons that China would invest in the land bridge project: "First, financial benefits, secondly geopolitics. Financially, this project is not worth the investment, but geopolitically it could be interesting as China would have control over both seas."

At a Belt and Road Initiative meeting in Beijing last October, Thai officials said the land bridge could be connected to another high-speed railway under construction from Thailand to Singapore. Srettha even drew a map of the route during a meeting, which he posted online.

But critics say the plan is unlikely to win China's full backing. They say a land bridge would require loading and unloading cargo from ships and would not save any time.

Somboon Kamhang, chairman of the Coordinating Committee on Development, called it "another dreamy project." He told VOA, "China isn't interested in the land bridge project. Building a land bridge is just way too costly and time-consuming, but China can get behind the canal idea which could give it more control over the region."

I'm Mario Ritter, Jr.

Vijitra Duangdee reported this story for VOA News. Hai Do adapted it for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

cargo –n. goods that are transported by a vehicle

congestion –n. the state of being too full or crowed with something

duration –n. the amount of time something lasts

benefits –n. (pl.) good results from some choice or action

time-consuming –adj. taking a lot of time