All Aboard the Singapore-Chiang Mai-Kunming Rail Line

The Thai government has approved a $23 billion infrastructure project including two lines that could revolutionize the region’s freight service, linking ports around Bangkok and in Singapore with Kunming and onward to Berlin. The pan-Asian rail network has been on the drawing board for decades. Some routes were mapped when British and French colonialists wanted to counter Russia’s Trans-Siberian railway. Now China is driving the project.

Singapore and Bangkok are closer to China’s vast southwest than China’s east coast ports. Singapore and Bangkok also offer access to strategic shipping lanes where much of the world’s oil is transported, along with service to he world’s fastest-developing nations in SE Asia. China has now pledged $11.4 billion to build two rail lines–one from Kunming (capital of Yunnan) to the Laos border and the other from Dali in western Yunnan to the Myanmar border. Both tracks must run through Thailand, the only land bridge to Singapore. Malaysia and Singapore have already approved a high-speed line to be finished by 2020.

Chalongphob Sussangkarn, a Thai government advisor, says China’s participation as a rail partner and a business competitor, is on everyone’s mind. “But, if you don’t have a link to southern China in the next 20 years, this will really be an enormous lost opportunity.”

Thailand was among Asia’s earliest exponents of rail: the Royal State Railways of Siam was formed in 1890 and, within 15 years, lines were running north and south. It became the State Railway of Thailand in 1951. But modernization and maintenance failed to keep pace. Investment shifted to roads as new policies encouraged private automobiles. Now the pendulum is swinging back. A daily air service opened earlier this year that connects KunMing and Chiang Mai. And here’s an item from last week’s APEC meeting:

BANGKOK: — THAILAND is more than ready to cooperate with China to develop the road-transport network that is part of the economic quadrangle linking Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and China, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha told China’s President Xi Jinping during a meeting in Beijing yesterday.

Chiang Mai Kunming Railway 2
Chiang Mai Kunming Railway Here we Come!

Prayut, who arrived in this Chinese capital yesterday to participate in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Summit, met Xi and told him that Thailand appreciated China’s strategies in developing the R3A route – which when constructed could become one of the world’s prominent economic routes. China has been hailed for initiating the land and sea ‘Silk Roads’. The route would link China and Thailand through Laos.

Route R3A is part of the so-called North-South Economic Corridor that will link Thailand with Laos and China. The road route from China’s Kunming will cross the Mekong River at Huay Xai in Laos at the Friendship Bridge and enter Thailand at Chiang Khong in Chiang Rai province.

Government Spokesman Yongyuth Mayalarp quoted Prayut as referring to a proposed railway project, that Bangkok was ready to cooperate with China in developing the dual-track rail link that would connect Thailand, China and other countries.

Prayut also thanked Beijing for continuously importing Thai agricultural products particularly fruit, jasmine rice, and rubber, the spokesman said. Both leaders agreed to hold further talks in a bid to alleviate problems and obstacles in bilateral trade of agricultural products between the nations.

Beijing was told that Bangkok backed its policy to use of the yuan as a common currency of Asia, the spokesman said, adding China would support business transactions in yuan to decrease currency exchange risks and costs. “They also hope the agreement on the Chinese Yuan and the Thai Baht Bilateral Currency Swap Arrangement which will expire next month, could be extended.”

Referring to the education cooperation between the countries, the spokesman said Thailand and China agreed to expand cooperation on science, technology, research and innovation because China had advanced technology and a forum could be held so scientists from both countries could work and study together more closely.

China also wanted to support the development of Thailand’s vocational education.

Prayut also invited his Chinese counterpart to attend the Great Mekong Sub-region Summit to be held in Thailand on December 19-20, the spokesman said. Read more…

The next we’ll hear is the cry, ‘All aboard the Singapore Chiang Mai Kunming Rail Line!

Book Thai train tickets here.

Read more about Thailand’s Kra Canal and the Belt and Road Initiative here..

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