Thailand’s ‘Landbridge’ to nowhere?

A new government always brings with it a reenergized leadership, as they look to shape the national agenda with new ideas.

In Thailand’s case, the coalition government, led by property mogul turned Prime Minister, Sretta Thevasin has hit the ground running as it seeks to have Thailand emerge from years of sluggish economic growth and stalling FDI, which have instead flowed to neighbours Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam.

However, instead of much needed reforms to address long needed structural economic deficiencies, the government has resorted to recycled ideas, including bringing back to life the long touted Thai ‘Landbridge’ proposal.

The concept has been studied multiple times over the past two decades, and each time the commissioned studies presented to government reach roughly the same conclusion, that the concept is economically unviable. So why then do Thai governments persist in pushing the idea?

This article looks at the results and findings of major previous studies done into the Landbridge concept and why in each and every case, the economics simply didn’t stack up. We also delve into some of the reasons why despite these clear cut results, Thai politicians insist in reviving the idea every few years.

What is the Thailand ‘Landbridge’?

The idea of using Thailand’s narrow southern peninsula as a transshipment shortcut for cargo between the Indian and Pacific oceans has fascinated Thai leaders and policy makers for more than four centuries.

The original concept of a ‘Kra Canal’, to rival the famous Panama Canal, is normally dismissed given the massive levels of construction needed to cross the mountain chain which dominates southern Thailand.

Still, the idea of using Thailand’s narrow southern peninsula to bypass the increasingly congested Malacca Straits persists refuses to die. Every few years, politicians revive the concept of a ‘Landbridge’ for cargo and oil shipments between Europe, China and the Middle East to move across Southern Thailand.

Since the 1990’s, several proposals have been developed to build road, rail and oil pipeline infrastructure along four existing east-west corridors linking ports on the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand.

High-level feasibility studies done over the years have been pessimistic about the project. Yet despite this, and the lack of subsequent interest from the private sector, the idea refuses to go away.

In our article below, we examine some of the major studies done over the years and why each of them came to the same conclusion.

The full article is available in PDF format via the ‘download’ button.

Chris Larkin is CLC Asia’s founder and managing director

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