Thailand aims to finish constructing the high-speed rail link which will connect China with the Land of Smiles by 2028, according to the Transport and Foreign Affairs ministries. As it stands, the project is only 5% complete – casting doubts on Thailand’s ability to fulfil their recent pledge to get the job done in the next six years.
Beijing plans to link Yunnan in southern China all the way to Singapore via high-speed train, but can’t do it without Thailand’s cooperation, who have proven to be not as hot on project management and time-keeping as China and Laos.
The train connecting China to the Laos capital Vientiane began services way back in December, and is now waiting for Thailand’s contribution to the project to be completed. Thailand plans to build 609 kilometres of track from Bangkok to Nong Khai on the border of Laos. Just across the river from Nong Khai is the Laos capital Vientiane.
Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Foreign Affairs Minister Don Pramudwinai met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Bangkok on July 6. One topic of the meeting was the “Thailand – Laos – China Connectivity Development Corridor.” The next day, Thailand announced that the railway to Nong Khai would be completed by 2028.
Thailand’s 2028 announcement has been criticised as merely political and completely lacking any technical basis. The project started many years ago and is still only 5%. At this rate, the project will not be completed for decades, according to experts.
Considering the timing, some expect that the statement was made to appease Beijing, who are getting fed up with Thailand’s snaillike construction work. Others think it is a desperate attempt to wangle support for PM Prayut’s weakening coalition prior to the next general election which will take place some time before 2023. After all, PM Prayut is not doing so well in recent opinion polls.
If the project goes ahead, the 250km/h train would revolutionise trade in southeast Asia. Thailand could benefit from more exports to China and more investment from China. However, the project will cost US$12 billion and analysts are not convinced that Thailand can really afford it after the pandemic.
Moreover, a Beijing-centred southeast Asian economy might not necessarily be a good thing for Thailand if the possibility exists that Thailand’s freedoms or relationships with other nations could be strained by China’s dominance in the region. With no detailed plans or timelines in place, Thailand’s commitment to the project is not convincing.
Published The Thaiger, 18 July 2022