BUKIT LANJAN: Look! Thailand working fast with China to ‘cut off’ Malaysia’s future trans-border trade link?
And, if you study the world map, Malaysia is not all that strategic as a global transport hub for trade because Malaysia can be “cut off”.
“And, Thailand is doing just that when it signs a US$5 billion (more than RM20 billion) rail transport infrastructure agreement with China,” Gerakan Deputy Speaker Syed Abdul Razak Alsagoff said.
“With the real possibility and threat to create the Isthmus of Kra canal, the majority of vessels are expected to not only by-pass Singapore but also Malaysia,” he added.
Syed Razak said: “With such future and real threats to Malaysia’s ports and international trade, the proposed construction of the RM55 billion East Coast Rail Line (ECRL) is clearly thinking out of the box for a secure future.
“The ECRL serves as the rail link to both Malaysia and Singapore to connect with the rest of the world via China’s ambitious quantum push and fiery drive for its ‘One Belt, One Road’ (OBOR) initiative.”
Read this for context: http://bukitlanjan.blogspot.my/2017/02/bukit-lanjan-ecrl-to-facilitate.html
“We most certainly need to keep up with such developments in Thailand and China or else, Malaysia will live to regret it for generations.
“The ECRL is about our future trans-border international transport link. It is not about politics.
“So, both state and federal governments must set aside politics and only focus on infrastructure and economic development for the not too distant future.
“So, stop the dilly-dally, time waits for no one. Start governing and and act fast, instead of waiting to play catch up,” he added.
Here are two news reports from VOA and the The Independent with the details:
"Thailand, China to Sign $5 Billion Rail Infrastructure Agreement
June 30, 2017 9:48 AM
|FILE - A high-speed railway train linking Shanghai and Kunming, of Yunnan province, is seen at a station during a partial operation, in Anshun, Guizhou province, China, Dec. 28, 2016.|
The first stage of the rail, the 252 kilometers from Bangkok to Nakhon Ratchasima, is a key step in a line that, once complete, will stretch more than 1,260 kilometers to Kunming, in China's Yunnan province. The next stages will reach the Thai border with Laos.
Analysts see the rail line as an extension of China's One Belt, One Road initiative, expanding regional trade and investment. The project also highlights China's growing regional influence.
The agreement, expected to be signed in July, follows almost two years of delays in negotiations, with final details of the contract still to be made public.
The deal has also raised widespread criticism of the government's use of powerful clauses in an interim charter.
|FILE - A man walks along rail tracks past moving and parked trains in Bangkok, Thailand, July 10, 2014. The military government is set to sign a more than $5 billion agreement with China for a high-speed rail network.|
Economists say investment in Thailand's rail infrastructure needs to be a priority.
Pavida Pananond, an associate professor of business studies at Thammasat University, said general improvements to Thailand's transportation network are welcome.
Several other countries, including Japan and South Korea, have put forward transportation plans and proposals for rail systems in recent years.
"It's good for Thailand and it's good for Thai business. I would say a clear 'yes' because Thailand is in dire need of better infrastructure, especially with regard to transport," Pavida said.
Thailand, she said, faces high transportation logistics costs due to a reliance on roads.
Talks surrounding the Sino-Thai rail agreement have been bogged down for over two years due to disputes over land access to China, debate over interest charges on loans from Chinese banks, and the eligibility of Chinese engineers and architects to work on the project.
Professor of economics Somphob Manarangsan said the rail project offers the region significant economic potential and a boost in Chinese foreign direct investment.
He said Thailand is also looking to China to invest in the government-backed Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) that is targeting regional foreign investment.
"Thailand wants them [China] to move their regional supply chain outside of China to the mainland of ASEAN [Association of South East Asian Nations] area, which has Thailand at the hub, connecting to CLMV [Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam]," he told VOA.
The rail network includes a 410-kilometer section through Laos, in which China is contributing 70 percent of the total $5.8 billion cost. Laos sees the rail line as vital to enable it to export goods to the Thai seaport of Laem Chabang, near Bangkok.
Special powers raise concern
But the project has come under increasing criticism in Thailand after the military government, in power since May 2014, insisted on using powers under Section 44 of the interim charter that give the government absolute authority in policy application.
The government claims the use of the special power was to ensure Chinese investment, expertise, technology and equipment.
|FILE - Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha listens to the opening remarks during the plenary session at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Manila, Philippines, Nov. 19, 2015.|
But the use of the laws was challenged by organizations of Thai professional engineers and architects who said Chinese engineers were not registered to work in Thailand.
Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University, in a commentary, said Thailand should press for open bidding on the project to ensure the country ended up with the "best bid with the best value."
"Instead, opting for the Chinese plan is poised to violate a slew of Thai laws and undermine the government's own good governance agenda," Thitinan said.
Besides exemptions to Chinese engineers and architects working on the project, the charter articles also exempt state procurement laws and environmental regulations covering forest reserves, which will be set aside for the line's construction.
Thammasat University's Pavida said other concerns include levels of transparency on the agreement.
"People don't know the details. People haven't seen much information on the potential benefit, and partly, this is because the feasibility study has been done by the Chinese," she said.
"So, if you look at that and the Chinese try to sell their technology and then we let them do the feasibility study, so they would say, 'yes, it is feasible.' So that's one of the reasons why people do not have trust in the rush into this," she said.
Analysts said the government's push to sign an agreement comes as Thai's Prayut is due to visit China in September to attend meetings of the BRICS — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — forum in Xiamen. - VOA
The real threat to S'pore – construction of Thai's Kra Canal financed by China
October 2, 2016
The Kra Canal or the Thai Canal refers to a proposal for a canal to cut through the southern isthmus of Thailand, connecting the Gulf of Thailand with the Andaman Sea. It would provide an alternative to transit through the Strait of Malacca and shorten transit for shipments of oil to East Asian countries like Japan and China by 1,200 km, saving much time. China refers to it as part of its 21st century maritime Silk Road.
China is keen on the Kra Canal project partly for strategic reasons. Presently, 80% of China’s oil from the Middle East and Africa passes through the Straits of Malacca. China has long recognized that in a potential conflict with other rivals, particularly with the US, the Strait of Malacca could easily be blockaded, cutting-off its oil lifeline. Former Chinese President Hu Jintao even coined a term for this, calling it China’s “Malacca Dilemma”.
History of Kra Canal
The idea to shorten shipping time and distance through the proposed Kra Canal is not new. It was proposed as early as in 1677 when Thai King Narai asked the French engineer de Lamar to survey the possibility of building a waterway to connect Songkhla with Marid (now Myanmar), but the idea was discarded as impractical with the technology of that time.
In 1793, the idea resurfaced. The younger brother of King Chakri suggested it would make it easier to protect the west coast with military ships. In the early 19th century, the British East India Company became interested in a canal. After Burma became a British colony in 1863, an exploration was undertaken with Victoria Point (Kawthaung) opposite the Kra estuary as its southernmost point, again with negative result. In 1882, the constructor of the Suez canal, Ferdinand de Lesseps, visited the area, but the Thai king did not allow him to investigate in detail.
In 1897, Thailand and the British empire agreed not to build a canal so as to maintain the importance of Singapore as a shipping hub, since by that time, Singapore was already prospering as an international hub with great importance to the British.
In the 20th century the idea resurfaced with various proposals to build the canal but did not go far due to various constraints including technology and cost constraints as well as indecisive political leadership of Thailand.
China shows Thailand the money
In the last decade, China has now become the potential game changer who can possibly turn Kra Canal proposal into reality in the 21st century. It has the money, technology and strong political leadership and will to support the project if it wants to.
Last year, news emerged that China and Thailand have signed an MOU to advance the Kra Canal project. On 15 May 2015, the MOU was signed by the China-Thailand Kra Infrastructure Investment and Development company (中泰克拉基礎設施投資開發有限公司) and Asia Union Group in Guangzhou. According to the news reports, the Kra Canal project will take a decade to complete and incur a cost of US$28 billion.
But 4 days later on 19 May, it was reported that both Chinese and Thai governments denied there was any official agreement between the 2 governments to build the canal.
A statement by the Chinese embassy in Thailand said that China has not taken part in any study or cooperation on the matter. It later clarified that the organisations who signed the MOU have no links to the Chinese government. Separately, Xinhua news agency traced the announcement of the canal project to another Chinese firm Longhao, which declined comment when contacted.
Dr Zhao Hong, an expert on China-Asean relations from the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, told the media that China would not embark on such a project lightly, given the political and bilateral implications.
“China will have to consider the feedback from countries such as Singapore, which it has friendly ties with, given the impact that the Kra canal might have,” he said at the time when news of the MOU emerged. But Dr Zhao added that China might be open to private companies studying the feasibility of such a project, but will not directly back it for now.
It was said that the the chairman of Asia Union Group, the Thai party which signed the MOU, is former Thai premier Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, a long-time supporter of the Kra Canal.
Thai PM: Kra Canal project should be looked into by future democratic governments
In Jan this year, the Thai PM reiterated again that the Kra Canal project is not on his government agenda. His announcement came after a member of the King’s Privy Council, Thanin Kraivichien, wrote an open letter to the government advocating for the canal’s construction.Thanin was the 14th PM of Thailand between October 1976 and October 1977. His call is part of a growing chorus of Kra Canal proponents in Thailand’s political and business communities that started talking openly last year after several Chinese firms expressed interest in funding and constructing the canal.
Responding to Thanin’s call for the project, the Thai PM said the Kra Canal project should be looked into by democratic governments in the future, meaning to say Thailand has not ruled out the construction of Kra Canal completely. And in the case of Thailand, changes to its government occur frequently like the changing of clothes.
China getting angry with Singapore
In the last couple of months, China is increasingly angered by PM Lee’s move to side with the US over the South China Seas issue, even though Singapore has no claims over any of the territories there.
It all started 2 months ago when PM Lee was invited to the White House and was hosted to a rare White House state dinner on 2 Aug(http://theindependent.sg/pm-lees-speech-at-white-house-state-dinner-angers-china). During his toast, PM Lee welcomed the US to adopt a strategy to “rebalance” the Asia Pacific and went on to call President Obama as the “America’s first Pacific President”.
China immediately responded through their Global Times. “Lee Hsien Loong addressed Obama as the American ‘first Pacific President’. Such flattery (‘戴高帽’) given to Obama directly does not concern us (‘倒也没啥’),” the Global Times’ article said. “The key is he praised the American strategy to ‘re-balance Asia-Pacific’ and publicised that all Southeast Asian countries welcome such American ‘balancing’. Because the ‘rebalance Asia-Pacific’ strategy is pointed at China to a large extent, Lee Hsien Loong is clearly taking side already.”
“If Singapore completely becomes an American ‘pawn’ (‘马前卒’) and loses any of its resilience to move between US and China, its influence will be considerably reduced. Its value to the US will also be greatly discounted,” it added.
The article went on to say that China has its limit in tolerance. It said, “Singapore should not push it (‘新加坡不能太过分’). It cannot play the role of taking the initiative to help US and South East Asian countries to go against China over South China Sea matters. It cannot help American ‘rebalancing Asia-Pacific’ strategy, which is directed at China’s internal affairs, by ‘adding oil and vinegar’ (‘添油加醋’), thereby enabling US to provide an excuse to suppress China’s strategic space as well as providing support to US.”
“Singapore can go and please the Americans, but it needs to do their utmost to avoid harming China’s interests. It needs to be clear and open about its latter attitude,” it cautioned. Singapore’s balancing act should be to help China and US to avoid confrontation as its main objective, and not taking side so as to increase the mistrust between China and US, it said..
The article gave the example of Singapore allowing US to deploy its P-8 reconnaissance aircraft to Singapore, which from the view of the Chinese, increases the tension in South China Sea, and thereby, increasing the mistrust between the 2 big countries.
“Singapore needs more wisdom (‘新加坡需要更多的智慧’),” the article concluded.
PLA General: We must strike back at Singapore
And yesterday, SCMP reported that a PLA General had called for Beijing to impose sanctions and to retaliate against Singapore so as to “pay the price for seriously damaging China’s interests” (http://theindependent.sg/pla-general-we-must-strike-back-at-singapore).
The General’s remarks came after a recent spat between Global Times and Singapore Ambassador Loh. On 21 Sep, Global Times carried an article saying that Singapore had raised the issue of the disputed South China Sea at the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit held in Venezuela on 18 Sep. It added that Singapore had “insisted” to include an international tribunal’s ruling on the waterway, which was in favour of the Philippines, in the summit’s final document.
Singapore’s ambassador to China, Stanley Loh, rejected this and wrote an open letter stating that the news report was “false and unfounded”. Mr Loh said the move to include the international ruling in NAM’s final document was a collective act by the members of the ASEAN. But the editor-in-chief of Global Times came out to stand by his paper’s report.
Then, the Chinese government also came out in support of Global Times, not buying Ambassador Loh’s arguments. When a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman was asked about the tiff between Global Times and Singapore, he blamed an unspecified “individual nation” for insisting on including South China Sea issues in the NAM document.
Xu Liping, senior researcher on Southeast Asia studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said China expected Singapore to be a neutral mediator between China and the countries of Asean, and did not want to see disputes over the South China Sea raised in a multilateral platform like the NAM Summit. And that was why China was so angry over Singapore’s active moves in broaching such a sensitive topic, he said.
“If Singapore does not adjust its policies, I am afraid the bilateral relations will deteriorate,” Xu added. “Singapore should think twice about its security cooperation especially with the United States, and strike a better balance between China and US.”
On Thursday, the overseas edition of People’s Daily also published an online commentary, saying Singapore “has obviously taken sides over South China Sea issues, while emphasising it does not”. In other words, China is accusing the Singapore government of saying one thing but doing another – a hypocrite.
Online, the Chinese netizens condemned Singapore as a “2-headed snake”. One of them wrote:
If the Kra Canal truly becomes a reality, ships would certainly consider by-passing the Strait of Malacca and Singapore altogether, making the Singapore’s all-important geographical location redundant. We may truly become a third world country after all. - The Independent"