BANGKOK — A parliamentary panel on Monday said several nations have shown an interest in constructing a canal across southern Thailand, which could allow ships to bypass the Strait of Malacca.
Thai Nation Power Party MP Songklod Thipparat, who chairs the parliament’s group that studies the project’s feasibility, said the centuries-old dream to build a canal across the Kra Isthmus is getting closer to become a reality. He said countries such as China, India, Australia, and the U.S. are willing to support Thailand on the project.
“They want to sign a memorandum of understanding with us,” Songklod said in an interview. “Foreign embassies have contacted us to get the latest status on the project.”
He added, “More than 30 foreign firms have shown an interest in investing or supplying us with financial and technical support to build the canal.”
If completed, the 135-kilometer long canal will connect the Gulf of Thailand with the Andaman Sea, providing a short-cut for vessels to navigate between the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean.
The “Thai Canal” will include two parallel channels spanning across three provinces of Trang, Nakhon Si Thammarat, and Songkhla in the south, officials said.
Songklod said the feasibility study of the project, initiated by PM Prayut Chan-o-cha, is almost completed and will soon be submitted to the Parliament for a debate.
He added that the plan has gained widespread support among the lawmakers and local communities alike, despite concerns raised by experts over its low economic viability, devastating environmental effects, and national security.
Some local observers even went as far as to claim that the canal will split the country in halves.
“The feedback is very good,” Songklod said. “Even a research conducted by the UN also suggests that the canal should be built.”
He did not specify the name of the report.
But Prayut had said in 2016 that the canal will never happen under his administration as he was concerned about the separatist insurgency in the three southern provinces. In a recent interview, he said he supported the idea of building a land bridge consisting of highways and railways instead of the canal.
“We’re looking for ways to connect the two coasts together,” Prayut said on Sept. 8. “I think it will help the economy in the long run. We have to develop all the logistic infrastructures and ports.”
Although Songklod acknowledged that there are some challenges associated with the megaproject, he described them as an effort by certain countries to sabotage the country’s strategic interests.
“They’re trying to portray it that way,” Songklod said. “They don’t want it to happen. If there’s Thai Canal, vessels will no longer need to navigate through the congested Malacca Strait.”
The ambitious plan to divert the region’s main shipping lane has been discussed at various points over the past centuries since the reign of Rama I, according to a 2005 study conducted by the Senate.
PM Thaksin Shinawatra’s administration approved the setting up of a committee to conduct a feasibility study in 2002, but the work discontinued after a military coup in 2006.
Seven years later under Yingluck Shinawatra’s government, the idea was revived by a Chinese company who conducted a new study on the canal, but it soon faced the same fate after Prayut seized power in 2014.