Groundswell of sup­port for Thai Canal

Bangkok Post - - NATIONAL - ERICH PARPART

A long-for­got­ten canal project has moved one step closer to be­ing res­ur­rected af­ter a group of in­flu­en­tial fig­ures and busi­ness­men with Chi­nese ties backed an eco­nomic fea­si­bil­ity study for the scheme.

Many of them gath­ered at the re­cently hosted “In­ter­na­tional Con­fer­ence on the Thai Canal” in Bangkok to air their sup­port for the Kra Canal project, now known as “Thai Canal”.

At­ten­dees who flagged their sup­port for the study in­cluded aca­demics from the King Mongkut’s In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy Lad­kra­bang and the sec­re­tary-gen­eral to the Gen Prem Tin­su­lanonda States­man’s Foun­da­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to the Kra Canal Study Team, one of the most vi­able routes for the canal would run from Nakhon Si Tham­marat, which faces the Gulf of Thai­land, through Phatthalung, Trang and then Krabi onto the An­daman Sea.

This route is known as “9A”, said Pakdee Tana­pura, vice-pres­i­dent of the Eco­nomic Board of the As­so­ci­a­tion and head of the study team.

The Thai Canal As­so­ci­a­tion has a “strong in­ten­tion” to push for the tan­gi­ble fea­si­bil­ity study re­gard­less of which gov­ern­ment is in power, Gen Pongthep Te­spra­teep told the Bangkok Post.

The for­mer sec­re­tary-gen­eral to ex-pre­mier Gen Su­rayud Chu­lanont now chairs the as­so­ci­a­tion.

“If this gov­ern­ment con­sid­ers it­self a care­taker gov­ern­ment that is dis­in­clined to com­mit to such a mega-project, we should still push for the fea­si­bil­ity study now be­cause it is long over­due,” he said. “I want to build mo­men­tum from the ground up. “We’ve al­ready re­ceived a pos­i­tive re­sponse from the peo­ple in the South and those who live along the 9A route.”

The for­mer chief of staff said the as­so­ci­a­tion has al­ready gath­ered over 200,000 sig­na­tures from aca­demics, as­so­ci­a­tions and cit­i­zens in the af­fected ar­eas who want to see the canal built.

Chuan Phukaoluan, chief ad­viser to the gov­er­nor of Krabi is also en­dors­ing the project, as is Phong Leng-ei, for­mer direc­tor-gen­eral of the Royal For­est Depart­ment. They said it will bring pros­per­ity to an area bat­tered by low rub­ber prices.

“The South can no longer rely on agri­cul­tural prod­ucts like rub­ber to prop up its econ­omy. Prices are too low and they fluc­tu­ate a lot,” Mr Chuan said.

“The canal, along with the prospect of hav­ing a new eco­nomic zone, should help re­vive the econ­omy in the South.

“But a study must be done to see what im­pact it will have to en­sure de­vel­op­ment pro­ceeds in a bal­anced way that doesn’t harm the en­vi­ron­ment or the flour­ish­ing tourism in­dus­try there.”

He said the canal will trig­ger the de­vel­op­ment of higher ed­u­ca­tion in en­gi­neer­ing and vo­ca­tional train­ing, espe­cially in Krabi and Phuket, to sup­port the con­struc­tion and main­te­nance of the canal, which will cre­ate jobs.

“This could lift the level of ed­u­ca­tion and the skill of labour­ers in the South,” he said.

Mr Phong said Thai­land can no longer rely on ex­ports and the Thai canal will be a “new prod­uct” gen­er­at­ing enor­mous in­come. He drew com­par­isons with port cities like Hong Kong and Sin­ga­pore.

“Why do we have to send our best prod­ucts to buy­ers out­side our coun­try when we can just sit here and col­lect the toll at home?” he said.

“This is a big project and we re­ally have to think big.

“Ques­tions re­gard­ing who will ben­e­fit or lose out are mi­nor is­sues that can eas­ily be re­solved if we have a tan­gi­ble fea­si­bil­ity study with a cred­i­ble en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact as­sess­ment.”

Vil­lage head­man Yongyut Kaewkhew of tam­bon Khao Phra Bat in Nakhon Si Tham­marat, one of the ar­eas which would be af­fected, said no NGOs op­pose the project.

“We are will­ing to [move] be­cause the canal will cre­ate jobs and help com­bat cli­mate change.”

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