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Sunday, June 4, 2017

Najib should put a stop to Kra Canal project

On May 11, while I was panning through the news headlines in Yahoo News, there was this interesting item which reported on Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s visit to China on May 12.
Yes, the PM had already gone and returned after attended the two-day Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRF) on May 14 in Beijing, on the invitation of the Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Yes, it was a vital meeting as it will bring forth benefits for people in Asia, especially to Malaysia and Singapore. And, particularly a better economy and life for all Malaysians at large for now and in the future.
If only the PM had voiced a request to China to stop plans with Thailand to build the 100km-long Kra Canal, which will cut through southern Thailand from the northernmost point of Peninsular Malaysia, to create a shipping gateway for liners plying the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
Note: This idea was originally mooted in the 17th century, and people are still trying to get it onto the drawing board today.
The meeting/forum had covered only logistics,transport and communications infrastructures, involving nations in Europe, Asia and Africa, without touching on the Kra Canal project.
However, this is a sensitive and serious matter concerning the future of shipping routes from West to East using the Straits of Malacca. With a shorter shipping route for trades from West to East for big sea liners, it will see an end to seaports in Malaysia and Singapore, once there is the Kra Canal.
Ships will certainly bypass the Straits of Malacca because it cuts down travel time by five sailing days and also saves having to travel 1,200km.
Exactly, it is the right time to put a full stop on the proposals to cut off the isthmus of Thailand and Malaysia, that is at the southern tip of Thailand and the northern tip of Peninsular Malaysia, to artifically construct another maritime shipping canal like the Suez and Panama Canals.
That is why the PM should have discreetly checked with Xi Jinping whether there are any plans on the drawing board to revive, or to restart the project to build the Kra Canal within the next 30 years or during Transformasi Nasional 50.
In fact, the group who attended the BRF meeting should have brought up the Kra Canal issue, as it is very much a logistical matter concerning Malaysia and Singapore.
Naturally, transshipment volumes to Malaysia and Singapore will likely see a drop, with big sea liners taking the Kra Canal, instead of bypassing the Straits of Malacca, to eastern nations such as China and beyond.
This is bad for business and economy in Malaysia and Singapore when ships no longer need to use the Straits of Malacca once there is a shortcut.
Not only that, it will render all mega projects now in the plans for the Malacca Gateway and in Pulau Malacca off the coast of Malacca, as white elephant projects once they have been completed.
So, people would like to know what economics and greater connectivity that Najib was talking about that will benefit the nation if the Kra Canal issue was not mentioned. However, quietly, it may have been given the thumbs-up at another private meeting held between heads from Thailand and China.
The Malaysian PM should do something to stop those people who want to help make Thailand a new maritime hub for Asean, to put the project on hold or better still to abort the plan totally.
I address this letter to Najib, to take up the matter with the relevant heads of nations to see that the Kra Canal issue is buried forever.

LAU BING is a community activist and writer in Subang Jaya. - Mkini

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