Thailand’s shocker to China: No Kra Canal any more…


The Thai Canal (also known as the Kra Canal) is a proposed canal that would cut across the Malay Peninsula in Southern Thailand. This man-made waterway would connect the Andaman Sea with the Gulf of Thailand, providing a maritime shortcut by rerouting shipping away from the Strait of Malacca. The canal of approximately 100 km would save 1200 km on the current journey via Singapore.



The Next Front in the India-China Conflict Could Be a Thai Canal

India is beefing up its island defenses as Beijing seeks a quicker route to the Indian Ocean.


Forget the new Cold War in the Pacific between the United States and China. There’s a much warmer war already going on between India and China that has killed at least 20 on a disputed border in the high Himalayas. At sea, China is attempting to encircle India with a series of alliances and naval bases evocatively known as the string of pearls. China’s greatest vulnerability in its strategy to dominate the Indian Ocean—and thereby India—is the Malacca Strait, a narrow sea lane separating Singapore and Sumatra, through which so much marine traffic must pass that it’s both a lifeline for China’s seaborne trade and the main path for its navy toward South Asia, and points further west. With regards to China’s rivalry with India—and its strategic ambitions in Africa, the Middle East, the Mediterranean, and beyond—anything that reduces the dependency on one narrow chokepoint between potentially hostile powers is vital.

That’s where the most ambitious of all of Beijing’s regional infrastructure projects—the controversial Belt and Road Initiative—comes in: a long-mooted canal across southern Thailand’s Kra Isthmus, the narrowest point of the Malay peninsula, which would open a second sea route from China to the Indian Ocean. This could allow the Chinese navy to quickly move ships between its newly constructed bases in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean without diverting more than 700 miles south to round the tip of Malaysia. That would make the Thai canal a crucial strategic asset for China—and a potential noose around Thailand’s narrow southern neck. If Thailand allows China to invest up to $30 billion in digging the canal, it may find that the associated strings are attached forever.

A Thai canal would fit neatly into Beijing’s plans to encircle India. The Chinese Navy is actively pushing west into the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean, opening an East African logistics base in Djibouti and conducting joint exercises in the region with the navies of MyanmarBangladeshPakistanIran, and even Russia. The plethora of China-sponsored port infrastructure projects throughout the region only add to the impression of encirclement. India has responded by gearing up for potential future confrontations with China at sea. In August, the Hindustan Times reported that India was planning significant upgrades of its air and naval facilities in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, specifically to counter China. An Indian union territory with a population of fewer than half a million, the strategic archipelago intersects the sea lanes leading from the Malacca Strait into the Indian Ocean. They also have the potential to quarantine the proposed Thai canal.

Today, Thailand’s territorial integrity is relatively secure. But a successful Thai canal project would reconfigure the political geography of Southeast Asia. It would bring in China as a permanent security partner that could not easily be kicked out—just ask Panama. Coupled with planned investments in ports at Sihanoukville in Cambodia and Kyaukpyu in Myanmar, China will see the Thai canal as a strategic waterway connecting its string of pearls. Were a hostile government in Bangkok ever to threaten to cut that string, it is not inconceivable that China would support an independence movement in the south and seize control of the canal in an intervention justified by the need to protect its own interests—again, the creation of Panama is instructive.






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