Thailand, a Vital Part of China’s Belt and Road InitiativePosted: November 27, 2017
Thailand is not along China’s ancient Silk Road so that it is certainly not within China’s Silk Road economic belt.
China’s 21st century maritime Silk Road mainly go through the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean and seems to have nothing to do with Thailand.
However, China plans to build a high-speed rail linking China with Bangkok through Laos. Construction of the section of the rail in Laos with a cost of $5.95 billion has already begun, but according to SCMP’s report “China seeks green light to get rolling on Thai ‘train to nowhere’” yesterday, the section in Thailand “has been dogged by delays and mistrust on the Thai side”.
Discrimination against overseas Chinese in Thailand is quite serious. The Chinese there was called Jews in the East by Thai King Rama VI (1910-1926). But in spite of the discrimination, overseas Chinese have been prosperous in Thailand. They account for 14% of Thai population but control 80% of Thai listed companies.
They seem assimilated by Thai people but in fact remain Chinese patriots as proved by their enthusiastic investment in China to help China’s reform and opening-up. Since China began reform and opening-up, overseas Chinese investment has accounted for 80% of foreign investment in China, in which Thai overseas Chinese has made the largest contribution. Therefore, it is only natural for China to invest in Thai infrastructures to help develop Thai economy and thus facilitate the growth of overseas Chinese business there. Return kindness with kindness is Chinese tradition.
However, that is not the major goal of China’s efforts there.
I had a post titled “China to Bypass Malacca Straight by a Canal at Kra Isthmus, Thailand” on March 15, 2014 on the benefits to China, Japan and ASEAN if a canal is build across Kra Isthmus, Thailand as an alternative route to that through the Malacca Strait.
It will shorten China and Japan’s trade route to Europe by 1,200km.
The problem is Thailand’s political instability. However, as mentioned above, overseas Chinese accounts for 14% Thai population but controls Thai economy and in addition, 70% Tai people have Chinese blood. When China was poor and weak those who have Chinese blood would not admit their Chinese kinship for fear of discrimination, but when China has grown rich and strong and able to protect overseas Chinese now, those people would be proud to admit their relationship with China. As a result, overseas Chinese and Thai people with Chinese blood will dominate and bring stability to Thai politics. They will make Kra Canal a viable project.
For that purpose, China shall make lots of investment in Tai infrastructures to facilitate development of Thai economy and enable Chinese people to set up and develop their enterprises there. With Chinese support, Thai Chinese will be certain to be the dominant force in Thailand. In fact, 80% of Tai prime ministers in the past were partially Chinese.
The plan so far for the high speed rail in Thailand is for connection between China and Singapore to provide a shortcut for export of goods from Southwest China, but if Kra Canal is built, the rail will link China with the canal to provide an even shorter trade route.
Taking into consideration of the long term benefit of the rail and canal, the $5.2 billion for the first Thai section, $5.95 billion for the section in Laos and the estimated $28 billion for the canal will be very cost-effective long-term investment. There will certainly be difficulties in conducting such large projects in other countries, but for China’s long-term interests, Chinese officials shall make great efforts to overcome the difficulties.
As the projects will also bring much benefit to Thailand, I believe it is certainly possible to overcome the difficulties.
Comment by Chan Kai Yee on SCMP’s report, full text of which can be found at http://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/2121540/china-hopes-controversial-thai-railway-will-get-green.