WHILE Thailand has decided to buy three submarines worth around $1 billion from China, a move that signals warming ties with the regional superpower, the marathon Thai-China railway project negotiation between Thailand and China has been tense.
Thailand used to negotiate with Germany over the purchase of submarines but with a lot of pressure from the West including the EU on aviation and fishing standards following the seizure of power by the military from the Yingluck government almost three years ago, Thailand has eventually decided to buy three submarines from China instead.
But when it comes to the railway project linking China and Thailand through Laos, negotiations have progressed at a snail’s pace as there’s a lot of differences especially on costs and rail systems.
Although China and Thailand recently agreed in principle that the first phase of a planned high-speed railway project will cost 179 billion baht against 560 billion baht proposed earlier by China, Thailand’s transport minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith said both countries called for closer ties following rocky negotiations.
The 873 km rail line will link Thailand’s border with Laos to the ports and industrial zones in Thailand’s eastern seaboard.
Among the key difference was Thailand wanted to use the 1-meter track but China wanted to use standard 1.435 meter track to link its railway from Laos. Thailand has been using its meter gauge throughout the country and plans to build double railway tracks to improve the efficiency of the railway system, using the meter gauge track.
Thailand probably does not want the standard gauge as it would not benefit much since the rail line will mostly serve freight trains from China from where cheap goods and commodities would flood Thailand like what has happened in Laos and Vietnam and even Europe. With a meter gauge at the Laos border, Thailand would benefit from having warehouse, custom clearance and its train service from there.
Top: File photo of a Chinese Navy submarine off Qingdao in Shandong Province. Photo: AFP / POOL / Guang Niu via Channel NewsAsia
By Kowit Sanandang