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Massive Canal Planned For Thailand

Thailand and the Japanese Global Infrastructure Fund are embarking on a bold and ambitious plan to build a canal linking the Pacific and Indian Oceans. It will rival the Panama and Suez canals. John Howard reports.

When Thailand's "Kra Canal" project is completed it will not only serve as a maritime waterway but it will also boast railways and tunnels that operate concurrently above and below the canal itself.

According to the blueprints, the Kra Canal would be part Euro tunnel, part monorail and part Suez Canal.

Japan's Global Infrastructure Fund (GIF) is a consortium of highly influential organisations founded in the 1980's by the financial elite of Japan's corporate society. In addition to the Kra Canal project the GIF has proposed projects using the Mediterranean Sea to bring a green revolution to the Sahara Desert, plans to develop solar and sea wave energy and the construction of a sub-oceanic tunnel linking Morrocco on the African Continent with Spain in Europe.

A GIF source in Thailand says that investment in large projects in the developing world by first world countries benefits both the donors and recipients.

GIF's feasibility study of the Kra Canal project is an in-depth profile which covers everything from land use, meteorology, socio-economic factors, environmental impact, global sea traffic demand and cost-benefit ratios of revenues and returns.

The canal will take ten years to construct with its final cost running into the billions of dollars. $US1.7 billion has been suggested just to get the project started.

The benefits of the canal are impressive.

The canal will shorten the journey for, say, a supertanker of oil travelling to Japan from the Middle East, by at least 700 nautical miles (about five days sailing) which would save around $US300,000 in crew and ship operating costs.

It will also counter China's sabre rattling over its claims to the strategic Spratly Islands - only a stone throw from the Malacca Straits - and it will be seen by the West and Japan as a counter to China's other expansionist designs in Asia.

The canal will also enable merchant vessels to avoid pirates which plague the region and for them to avoid the sand dunes and rock formations which lay like a minefield off the tip of Singapore. There have been hundreds of martitime accidents in the Malacca Straits with dozens of people abducted and executed by pirates.

If only one-fourth of of the vessels passing through the Straits of Malacca use the Kra Canal, Thailand will gain revenue of tens of millions of baht.

With 4.5 million Thai's unemployed, undertaking such a massive public works project is attractive to the government. Thailand saw the genesis of the 1997 Asian financial meltdown and today the nation is caught in the middle of a social, moral and economic breakdown.

America, Europe, Japan and Thailand want the Kra Canal. But the Russians, Islamic nations and China don't. And that arguement, if it develops, could become very interesting.

"Control of maritime shipping choke-points will be a key issue of the 21st Century," said Bill Woolston, a US mutual funds investor currently visiting Thailand to gather investment information on the Kra Canal project.

Once the canal is completed Thailand will once again be a key player in the vital strategic interests of the US and its allies.

An exhaustive, random, stratified public opinion poll undertaken by the Thai military regarding the canal issue shows 70 percent of Thai's surveyed approve the project.

"There is a clear mandate to go ahead with the project which will be a great source of pride to the Thai people," said Capt. Veeman Thongpao of Thai Millitary Intelligence.


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