Written by Keshala Dias
24 Jan, 2017 | 5:42 pm
The ‘Silk Road’ or the ‘Silk Route’ is an ancient network of trade and cultural interaction through regions of the Asian continent connecting the East and West from China to the Mediterranean Sea.
China is now keen on making a new 21st century Maritime Silk Road, known as the ‘Kra Canal’ or the ‘Thai Canal’.
This is a proposal for a canal to cut through the Southern Isthmus of Thailand, connecting the Gulf of Thailand with the Andaman Sea. This would provide an alternative to transit through the Strait of Malacca and shorten transit for shipments of oil to East Asian countries like Japan and China by 1,200 km, saving much time.
China is keen on the canal project mainly as it would cut down the oil lifeline when being shipped to China.
If China builds the canal in collaboration with Thailand, it will be a massive threat to Singapore as it would cut down the need to use the Keppel Harbour in Singapore.
Singapore is a country who’s main income is earned through tourism and the harbour.
Presently, 80% of China’s oil from the Middle East and Africa passes through the Straits of Malacca so ‘what might happen if this is cut down?’ – Singapore’s unanswered question.
If the Kra Canal becomes a success, it means more ships will anchor inthe Sri Lankan Hambantota port, as the Malacca Strait will be avoided.
If the ships do not cross the Malacca Strait to anchor at the Keppel harbour in Singapore, the next option is the Hambantota port.
Sri Lanka is a country which is located at the centre of the Silk Route but was not used as travelling to the Colombo harbour was a long way.
The idea to shorten shipping time and distance through the proposed Kra Canal is not new.
1677 – It was proposed as early as in 1677 when Thai King Narai asked the French engineer de Lamar to survey the possibility of building a waterway to connect Songkhla with Marid (now Myanmar), but the idea was discarded as impractical with the technology of that time.
1793 – The idea resurfaced.
1863 – After Burma became a British colony in 1863, an exploration was undertaken with Victoria Point opposite the Kra estuary as it’s Southernmost point. Yet again, the result was negative.
1882 – The constructor of the Suez canal, Ferdinand de Lesseps, visited the area, but the Thai king did not allow him to investigate in detail.
1897 – As Singapore was prospering as an international hub with great importance to the British, therefore, Thailand and the British empire agreed not to build a canal in order to conserve the importance of Singapore as a shipping hub, since by that time.
20th century – the idea was resurfaced yet again, but failed due to various constraints including technology and cost constraints as well as indecisive political leadership of Thailand.
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