The Kra Isthmus, a strategic shortcut

The idea may be more than 300 years old, but now it's back in the news: a canal, similar to those in Panama and suez, cutting southern Thailand in two and thus creating a short cut between the Far east, the Persian Gulf, and Europe.

This project would be a cornerstone of the new Maritime silk Road strategy in China, a country keen to consolidate its rediscovered geopolitical centrality. Various versions have been proposed over time, but the idea is the same: Kra Canal - named after Kra Isthmus, the narrowest part of the Malay Peninsula in southern Thailand (44km), would connect the Indian and Pacific oceans. Thus, cargo ships could bypass Singapore and avoid having to force their way through the increasingly congested straits of Malacca. It would be extremely advantageous for China: 80% of its oil imports use this route, as do its exports to Europe. In fact, it was a Chinese newspaper that rekindled interest in the idea.

In May, the Hong Kong-based Oriental Daily News reported that “representatives” of China and Thailand had signed a formal pledge to begin construction. The plan is believed to involve building a canal even further south between the provinces of Satun and Songkhla. This route is longer (102 km) but less mountainous. The proposed two-way, 25m deep and 400m wide canal would take ten years to complete and cost $28 billion (€25.4 billion). The project appeared to be a crowning achievement of the new friendship between Bangkok and Beijing, which have been forging ever-closer ties since the Thai coup in 2014. Instead, both governments were quick to deny any agreement.

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