China has in its development strategy an initiative since 2013 called One Belt One Road (OBOR) which entails creating new economic corridors both on land and sea, uniting Asia with Africa and Europa. China wants to build infrastructure, capitalize resources and to create commercial routes between Beijing and the countries of Central Asia, Europe, Africa and Indo-Pacific. The initiative represents a network of roads, railways, gas and oil pipelines, ports and electrical network, infrastructure projects linking China with the rest of the world.
Thailand has an economic development initiative as well, called the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) which comprises three Eastern provinces – Rayong, Chonburi and Chachoengsao – with an overall surface of approximately 13,285 km2. This Corridor will enjoy investments of 43 billion US dollars in the next years, most of them through foreign direct investment.
During the official press conference held at the end of last week in Bangkok, the foreign affairs Chinese minister Wang Yi stated that the existence of a direct railway between China and Thailand is beneficial to the bilateral cooperation between the two countries, bringing growth and prosperity to the industries found not only in the proximity of the railway, but also helps developing a pan-Asian railway network. Thailand’s EEC is in accordance with China’s OBOR strategy and thus it can be promoted as an important economic area, a transport and innovation hub but also as a gate for the neighboring countries.
Wang Yi has also declared in an official press release of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs that the solidarity shown in constructing the OBOR initiative has opened vast spaces for cooperation between the two states. With its settlements, at the crossroads between the continent and the sea, on the route proposed by the Chinese on the “Belt and Road”, Thailand will become an important economic partner of China. Hence, the two countries should intensify their effort for constructing a railway to give Thailand access to the Chinese markets thus becoming an integrated part of these, promoting Thailand to become a hub of regional connectivity. China is prepared to actively participate in the construction of Thailand’s EEC, but also open a new OBOR platform.
In another official press release it is shown that Thailand is hoping for an efficient integration between OBOR and the construction of an ASEAN community, promoting the construction of the railway with China under these premises. As such, the EEC could become an important component of OBOR and Thailand urges Chinese companies to actively participate in the construction of the EEC which could accelerate the development of the entire sub-region.
Such official declarations come in the context of Thailand’s approval in 2014 of a transport project valued at 23 billion US dollars which will be finalized with the construction of two high-speed railways linking Thailand directly to China until 2021, information presented by Bangkokpost.
According to the Chinese foreign affairs minister, the railway project will be the foundation for Thailand to become a hub of regional connectivity, an important economic center for the Association of the South-Eastern Asian Nations.
According to ChinaDaily, in its first phase, the railway project will include the construction of 6 train stations with a total length of 2500 km of high-speed railway which will link Thailand’s capital with the North-Eastern province of Nakorn Ratchasima. The future prospective show that the railway will be extended up until Nong Khai. The constructions will be made so that new routes to Laos could be added.
Thailand’s government approved its transport minister’s proposal to build 252 km of high-speed railway between Bangkok and Nakhon Ratchasima with a total cost of 5.2 billion US dollar, costs incurred by the government.
According to the government, the Thailand national companies together with the Chinese ones will be responsible with the physical constructions, while China will oversee the technological systems and the technical training of the railway staff. According to the statement of the Thailand’s prime-minister Prayu Chan-o-cha, the project will use Thailand materials and Chinese technology for the construction of the railway.
At the same time, Reuters reports that the Chinese minister Wang Yi underlined that his country agrees to share the railway technology with Thailand and is ready to help in training Thailand’s technicians and railway staff.
In addition, according to the information reported by the travel agencies in the region , voices state unofficially that the construction of the railway will start this September and will last 4 years, uniting China with Laos and Thailand. Trains coming from Kunming and Bangkok will use this route and the future perspective shows that the railway will be extended up to Singapore, with a total length of 3000 km. The information available at the moment shows that the trains will be ready to run from 2021, at an estimated speed between 160-200km/h and a total time spent of approximately 12 hours.
According to the same sources, the actions of the railway project will happen on the Chinese, Laos and Thailand territory, mainly in the cities of: South Kunming, Kunyang, Jinning East, Huacheng, Baofeng, Yuxi, Yuxi South, Yuanjiang, Mojiang, Puer, Jinghong, Mohan, Vientiane, Nong Khai, Khon Kaen, Nakhon Ratchasima, and Bangkok where train stations are planned for construction.
Although at the moment there are no studies or analysis done to measure the impact of this project, according to some tour operators in the region, they consider that the railway will make travelling between the two states cheaper, easier and more convenient. The estimations done at the moment show that approximately 2 more million Chinese tourists will come to visit Thailand, developing its tourism industry. As for China, the designed railway will massively reduce the export costs of agricultural products such a rice, vegetables and tropical fruits coming from Thailand as the taxes for railway transport are about one third of the air freight charges.