NEW DELHI: A plan by the government of Thailand to build a rail and road bridge across the Isthmus of Kra, linking the Gulf of Thailand with the Andaman Sea, has enormous commercial and strategic implications, says Vijay Gokhale, former foreign secretary.
Talking on The Gist programme, Ambassador Gokhale said there are obvious economic benefits given that it cuts short, by four or five days, the usual passage through the Straits of Malacca further south. China would be particularly interested since it has a naval base coming up in Ream, in Cambodia, it has a port in Kyauk Phu in Myanmar and another in Hambantota, Sri Lanka.
India needs to seriously consider syncing our own plans for a transshipment hub in the Andamans with the Kra road and rail bridge, argues Ambassador Gokhale. Otherwise, the former could lose out. India also needs to factor an expanded Chinese naval presence in the Bay of Bengal.
The key point is whether India can be a stakeholder in this project. Since building it will cost an estimated $30 billion, it may well be that Thailand will seek overseas investment, not only from Asean but the US and other countries. It would be one way of ensuring the Chinese don’t get to control it.
Tune in for more in this conversation with Ambassador Vijay Gokhale.