If there is a chance that China’s dominance in the region could restrict Thailand’s freedoms or its interactions with other countries, then a Beijing-centered southeast Asian economy could not necessarily be good for Thailand.
On July 6, the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Minister of Foreign Affairs Don Pramudwinai in Bangkok. The “Thailand – Laos – China Connectivity Development Corridor” was one of the meeting’s topics. The railway to Nong Khai would be finished by 2028, according to Thailand’s announcement the next day. The 2028 declaration from Thailand has drawn criticism for being purely political and lacking any technical foundation whatsoever. Only 5% of the project has been completed since it began several years ago. Experts predict that at this pace, the project won’t be finished for decades. Others believe it to be a last-ditch effort to rally support for PM Prayut’s alliance before of the upcoming general election, which will take place before 2023. After all, recent polls show PM Prayut performing poorly. Thailand’s commitment to the project is unconvincing because there are no established timelines or detailed plans.
The project is currently only 5 percent finished, raising concerns about Thailand’s ability to keep its recent promise to finish the project within the next six years. Since December, the train has been running between China and Vientiane, the capital of Laos. It is currently awaiting Thailand’s completion of its portion of the project. Thailand intends to construct a 609-kilometer track that will run from Bangkok to Nong Khai on the Laos border. Vientiane, the capital of Laos, is located directly over the river from Nong Khai. Given the date, some speculate that the declaration was made to placate Beijing, which is growing impatient with Thailand’s sluggish building progress. The 250 km/h railway would transform trade in Southeast Asia if the project moves forward. More Chinese investment and exports to China could be advantageous for Thailand. Analysts are skeptical that Thailand can actually afford the $12 billion project in the wake of the pandemic. Beijing wants to build a high-speed train that will connect Yunnan in southern China with Singapore, but it needs Thailand’s assistance because Thailand hasn’t been particularly good at managing projects and keeping deadlines like China and Laos have. According to the transport and foreign affairs ministries, Thailand hopes to complete building the high-speed rail link that will connect China with the Land of Smiles by 2028.

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