Srettha has revitalised the idea with gusto, recycling arguments long trotted out by proponents of the Kra Canal.
First, by bypassing the increasingly congested Straits of Malacca, shipping companies will save three to four days sailing time, thereby reducing transportation costs by 15 per cent.
Second, construction of the land bridge will provide a 1.3 trillion baht (US$370 billion) boon to the economy, raising economic growth by 1.5 per cent and providing jobs for 280,000 workers. It would particularly benefit the economy in the south where the ruling coalition parties fared poorly in the May 2023 general election.
Third, the land bridge would place Thailand at the heart of Southeast Asia’s supply chains.
COST OF BYPASSING STRAITS OF MALACCA
As with the Kra canal, critics of the land bridge have called into question the project’s economic viability. Bypassing the Malacca Straits may well reduce sailing times, they argue, but off-loading goods at one end, transporting them to the other end, and then re-loading them onto other ships could take just as long as sailing through the straits and would actually increase transportation costs.
In addition, the land bridge would have a negative impact on the environment, hurting southern Thailand’s tourism and fishing industries. Moreover, geopolitically, ownership of the land bridge might suck Thailand into the vortex of US-China competition, especially if Beijing was to fund its construction.
Undeterred by these arguments, Srettha has said he is determined to see the project through and has even proposed a timeline. Construction companies would bid for contracts in mid-2025 with construction slated to begin later the same year and completed by 2030, at a total cost of around US$30 billion.