PM, a plan and a canal

PM, a plan and a canal

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has taken the right steps over the latest resurrection of the Kra Canal. But that doesn't mean he's going to get much support or win over public opinion on the matter. By ordering two new studies into updated proposals for building the canal, he will get criticism from both sides. Proponents of what they want to call the "Thai Canal" think he is taking too long and opponents of the proposal believe he should do nothing.

The idea of excavating a canal across lower Thailand's Kra Peninsula is the country's oldest civil works idea to never be implemented. Yet the many false starts and the cast of characters involved probably deserve a history book of their own. It would include Thai kings, more engineering than a degree course, foreign advisers and businessmen galore. The atmosphere has run from high enthusiasm to moody scepticism, with everything in between. At one point, a completely serious proposal put on the table called for excavation of the east-west Kra Canal by nuclear explosion.

So, it has been quite a ride from the first proposal. We know how old the Kra Canal idea is -- 341 years. It was King Narai who sent his chief engineer, Frenchman de Lamar, to the South in 1677 with instructions to do the first actual study on such a project. The king's advisers had raised the possibility of quick and continuing wealth in trade if there were a canal connecting Songkhla province and Myanmar. On paper and in conversation, the benefits of the plan are irrefutable.

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