Groundswell of support for 'Thai Canal'
A long-forgotten canal project has moved one step closer to being resurrected after a group of influential figures and businessmen with Chinese ties backed an economic feasibility study for the scheme.
Many of them gathered at the recently hosted "International Conference on the Thai Canal" in Bangkok to air their support for the Kra Canal project, now known as "Thai Canal".
Attendees who flagged their support for the study included academics from the King Mongkut's Institute of Technology Ladkrabang and the secretary-general to the Gen Prem Tinsulanonda Statesman's Foundation.
According to the Kra Canal Study Team, one of the most viable routes for the canal would run from Nakhon Si Thammarat, which faces the Gulf of Thailand, through Phatthalung, Trang and then Krabi onto the Andaman Sea.
- Earlier analysis: Kra Canal 'unlikely'
This route is known as "9A", said Pakdee Tanapura, vice-president of the Economic Board of the Association and head of the study team.
The Thai Canal Association has a "strong intention" to push for the tangible feasibility study regardless of which government is in power, Gen Pongthep Tesprateep told the Bangkok Post.
The former secretary-general to ex-premier Gen Surayud Chulanont now chairs the association.
"If this government considers itself a caretaker government that is disinclined to commit to such a mega-project, we should still push for the feasibility study now because it is long overdue," he said.
"I want to build momentum from the ground up.
"We've already received a positive response from the people in the South and those who live along the 9A route."
The former chief of staff said the association has already gathered over 200,000 signatures from academics, associations and citizens in the affected areas who want to see the canal built.
Chuan Phukaoluan, chief adviser to the governor of Krabi is also endorsing the project, as is Phong Leng-ei, former director-general of the Royal Forest Department. They said it will bring prosperity to an area battered by low rubber prices.
"The South can no longer rely on agricultural products like rubber to prop up its economy. Prices are too low and they fluctuate a lot," Mr Chuan said.
"The canal, along with the prospect of having a new economic zone, should help revive the economy in the South.
"But a study must be done to see what impact it will have to ensure development proceeds in a balanced way that doesn't harm the environment or the flourishing tourism industry there."
He said the canal will trigger the development of higher education in engineering and vocational training, especially in Krabi and Phuket, to support the construction and maintenance of the canal, which will create jobs.
"This could lift the level of education and the skill of labourers in the South," he said.
Mr Phong said Thailand can no longer rely on exports and the Thai canal will be a "new product" generating enormous income. He drew comparisons with port cities like Hong Kong and Singapore.
"Why do we have to send our best products to buyers outside our country when we can just sit here and collect the toll at home?" he said.
"This is a big project and we really have to think big.
"Questions regarding who will benefit or lose out are minor issues that can easily be resolved if we have a tangible feasibility study with a credible environmental impact assessment."
Village headman Yongyut Kaewkhew of tambon Khao Phra Bat in Nakhon Si Thammarat, one of the areas which would be affected, said no NGOs oppose the project.
"We are willing to [move] because the canal will create jobs and help combat climate change."