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New canal for a new century
Posted By Anthony C. LoBaido On 01/09/2000 @ 1:00 am In Front Page | Comments Disabled
SURAT THANI, Thailand — A bold and ambitious plan by Thailand’s
government, long a key U.S. ally, is paving the way for the building of
a canal rivaling the Panama and Suez Canals, both in economic terms and
in its importance as a strategic maritime choke point.
If the proponents of Thailand’s “Kra Canal” project get their way,
not only will the new canal serve as a maritime waterway, it will also
boast railways and tunnels that operate concurrently above and below the
canal itself. According to the preliminary blueprints, the Kra would be
part Euro Tunnel, part Monorail and part Suez Canal.
Grand plan of the Japanese
Under the auspices of Japan’s Global Infrastructure Fund, Thailand
has taken grand steps towards bringing the canal to realization.
GIF is a little-known, yet highly influential, organization founded
in the early 1980s by the multinational elite of Japan’s corporate
society. In addition to the Kra Canal in Thailand, the Fund has
proposed, among other projects, using the Mediterranean Sea to bring a
green revolution to the Sahara Desert in North Africa. Moreover, the
Fund has proposed daring plans to develop solar and sea wave energy,
building a “second” Panama and Suez Canal in both Central America and
Egypt, as well as the construction of a sub-oceanic tunnel linking
Morocco to Spain.
The Japanese Fund has, in many respects, adopted the ideas of
scientist Edward Teller, the “father of the hydrogen bomb.” Teller
proposed damming Gibraltar, the “Pillars of Hercules,” over a generation
ago. According to Teller, sub-oceanic nuclear explosions would dam
Gibraltar, causing the Mediterranean to rise and freshen, thus bringing
fresh water to countries plagued by drought and famine like Ethiopia,
Sudan, Libya and Chad.
A Global Infrastructure Fund spokesman based in Thailand told
WorldNetDaily that “investment in large construction projects in the
developing world by First World countries could benefit both the donors
and recipients of such aid.”
An old maritime dream
The dream of a Thai Canal linking the Indian Ocean with the Pacific
is an old rumination born in 1677, under the reign of King Narai the
Great. In those days of Puritan America, the Thai King allowed the
French — who would come to rule all of Indochina by the 18th Century –
to set up a trading colony in the Kingdom of Siam, as Thailand was known
at that time.
M. de la Mar, a maverick and brilliant French engineer, began drawing
up the preliminary blueprints for a canal that would link the Indian
Ocean with the Pacific. His plan was enthusiastically endorsed by King
Louis, as France at that time understood the effects of military
mobilization on its colonial economy. But plans for the construction of
the canal fell through.
In 1858, Thailand’s King Rama IV gave British engineers permission to
dig a similar canal, but the obstacles of rugged, expansive mountain
ranges and spiraling costs forced the British Empire to abandon the
project. While the U.S. had Theodore Roosevelt to push the envelope of
America’s collective imaginations in order to endure the human cost of
building the Panama Canal (over 2,500 lives were lost in its
construction) the British had already built their Empire.
“The building of the canal was seen by the British Colonial Office as
just another magnificent project,” said Jaime Overton, a British
doctoral student visiting southern Thailand to gather research for her
doctoral thesis on the history of England’s role in Siam.
“The French could not build the Panama Canal,” Overton told
WorldNetDaily. “They tried and failed. America took the successful
building of the Canal as a slap in the face toward French provincial
attitudes. Remember, when General Pershing came to France in World War I
he said, ‘Lafayette, I have arrived,’ meaning the U.S. had finally paid
back the French for their mercenary assistance in the Revolutionary
However, with the completion of the Suez Canal in Egypt in 1868, the
French once again lobbied King Rama IV for the chance to build the canal
of their dreams in Thailand. Ferdinand de Lessseps, the Frenchman who
had executed the construction of the Suez Canal, was chosen to lead the
project. But Rama IV refused France’s request due in no small part to
his emerging alliance with England.
Because of Britain’s vast shipping interests in its colonies in
Malaysia and Singapore, it opposed the building of the canal. Rama IV’s
pro-British canal stance lasted through World War II, as Thailand gave
its collective word that it would not build a canal linking the Indian
and Pacific Oceans without the explicit blessing of Great Britain.
Making the vision a reality
GIF’s recently released feasibility study for the Kra Canal is an
in-depth profile that covers a plethora of disciplines and concerns.
Everything from land use to meteorology, socio-economic factors,
environmental impact, global sea traffic demand and cost-benefit ratios
of revenue and returns have been studied by teams of experts.
Additionally, Thailand’s military, which would have to expand its
naval forces to defend the canal, has added its input to the GIF canal
study. By analyzing everything from social psychology to international
politics, science, technology and national security, the Thai Military
– long a gigantic force in the de facto running of the nation’s affairs
– has now weighed in on the pro-Kra Canal side of the debate.
Additionally, an exhaustive, random, stratified public opinion poll
undertaken by the Thai military regarding the canal issue shows that 70
percent of Thais surveyed approve of the project.
“There is a clear mandate to go ahead with the project, which will be
a great source of pride to the Thai people,” said Veeman Thongpao, a
captain in Thai Military Intelligence in an interview with
“The most secure nation in the world is no longer the one with the
bravest soldiers. Thailand needs access to credit and oil. Thailand
needs a new vision of belonging to the global economic community,” he
The canal, the report states, will take 10 years to construct and
costs will run into the billions — 1.7 billion U.S. dollars has been
suggested as a starting estimate. International factors such as
Thailand’s credit rating, access to international capital and domestic
priorities will no doubt influence the final cost of the Kra Canal if it
is actually undertaken.
Yet, the benefits of the canal, according to both its Japanese and
Thai proponents, would be impressive, at least on paper.
First, the Canal will shorten the journey, for example, of a
supertanker filled with oil heading for Japan from the Middle East by at
least 700 nautical miles (about 5 days sailing). This would save
$300,000 in crew and fuel costs on such an individual voyage.
Second, with the People’s Republic of China rattling sabers over its
claims to the strategic Spratly islands — only a stone’s throw from the
Malacca Straits — the Kra Canal is seen by the West — and Japan — as
a means to counter China’s expansionist designs in Asia.
Thirdly, the Kra Canal would enable merchant vessels to avoid sea
pirates that plague the region as though the days of Blackbeard had
returned. Another concern is the bothersome sand dunes and rock
formations which lay like a minefield off the tip of Singapore.
Avoiding an Exxon Valdez-type catastrophe makes sense to the region’s
green activists. For example, in 1996, there were 150 maritime accidents
in the Malacca Straits, and more than 60 people were abducted and
executed by marauding pirates.
In the end, of course, economic factors will determine whether the
Kra Canal is actually built.
“If only one-fourth of the vessels passing through the Straits of
Malacca use the Kra Canal, Thailand will gain annual revenue of tens of
millions of baht,” said the GIF report. Currently, 38 baht equals one
With 4.5 million Thais currently out of work, undertaking such a
massive public works project is looking increasingly attractive to the
present government. Thailand saw the genesis of the 1997 Asian
Financial meltdown, and today the nation is caught in the middle of a
total social, moral and economic meltdown.
Detractors of the Kra Canal project lament potential environmental
degradation. Others fear the southern Thailand Islamic separatist
movement — which is believed to have links to alleged Saudi terror
guru Osama bin Laden
might attack the canal with terror tactics during or after its
“We’re talking about billions of dollars in infrastructure and
revenue here. America, Europe, Thailand and Japan want the Kra Canal.
The Russians, Islamic nations and China don’t want it,” said Bill
Woodson, an American mutual funds investor currently visiting Thailand
to gather information on future investment in the Kra Canal project.
“Control of maritime shipping points will be a key issue of the 21st
Century,” added Woodson. “And Thailand will once again be a key player
in the vital strategic interests of the United States and her allies.”
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