Buddhist Economic and Geopolitical Revival through Kra-Isthmus Canal
Posted on July 13th, 2013

Dilrook Kannangara

If Thialand’s much discussed Kra-Isthmus canal is dredged, it shifts South East Asian prosperity to the three historically close-knit nations of Thailand, Burma and Sri Lanka.

Following a strong pro-Sri Lanka stand at the UNHRC, a top Thailand delegation visited the island. They proposed Thailand-Sri Lanka-Burma naval co-operation. Superficially, it is yet another shallow statement. After all around the same time Indian, Japanese, Chinese and US naval missions berthed at Colombo. However, there is a deeper meaning to naval co-operation among the three historically close nations bound by one common thread. If Thialand’s much discussed Kra-Isthmus canal is dredged, it shifts South East Asian prosperity to these three nations.

Kra-Isthmus Canal

A map of Thailand shows a narrower sliver of land between Gulf of Thailand on its east and Andaman Sea on its west. Kra-Isthmus Canal is a proposed canal to be dredged linking the Gulf of Thailand and Andaman Sea. It was first proposed over 300 years ago. Enthusiasm surfaced over and over again but no action was ever taken. At the moment Thailand don’t intend to dredge it. However, it makes very good sense to do so. It will be a shipping industry gold mine. If made, it cuts travel distance by over a thousand kilometres; travel time by days and saves billions to shipping companies. Cost of import and export involving Asia will reduce significantly making more and more industries viable. Hambantota and Burmese ports will replace Singapore. Ships travelling west to east will have to call at either of these ports before making the journey across the canal. Still, many ships will be travelling from Suez to Singapore and Australia. Hambantota will be their interim destination as it sits at the three-way junction.

Thailand, Burma and Sri Lanka will immensely benefit from the Kra-Isthmus Canal that will propel them to become developed countries. Today it is more about reviving their historical cooperation in the modern capitalist world than limiting to religious affinities.

Interestingly, the proposed canal requires lesser dredging than the Suez canal and the Panama canal. However, due to various geopolitical setbacks deliberately caused by Singaporean and Malaysian interests on Thailand, the project has been buried. If the canal comes into existence, it will take prosperity away from these two nations. ASEAN was formed to keep these pressures on Thailand indirectly thereby not allowing it to go for the project. In 2006 a retired Thai diplomat revealed how a Tamil Singaporean diplomat blocked Sri Lanka from entering ASEAN in the 1960s. However, with Lee Kuan Yew’s days numbered, and, with no real replacement for him as the mentor and de facto ruler of Singapore ever since its independence, the time for action is fast approaching.

The project costs a few hundred billion dollars to complete. However, it can be recovered within a couple of years, if not months. Once in operation, it will be a huge geopolitical clout to all three nations.

A Departure from the Current Geopolitical Impasse

All three nations are caught up in a geopolitical gridlock pinning them down. Thailand’s progress is severely crippled by outside influence on political stability to keep the most populous ASEAN nation well below its potential. In addition, Malaysian and Indonesian funded Islamic terrorists cause further economic and security distress. Thailand’s handling of these terror groups has been criticised by ASEAN. Chinese preference for Singapore as a shipping hub where most shipping related industries are owned by the Chinese doesn’t help Thailand’s progress either. The once influential nation has withered to insignificance between US and Chinese geopolitical manoeuvrers.

Burma is also in a geopolitical rut. On one hand powerful Islamic extremist groups exert pressure while on another front the Indian-Chinese pressure restrains it. Western pressure and sanctions also bite into Burma. Just like Thailand, ASEAN heavyweights censure Burma for taking defensive action.

Sri Lanka may be the most geopolitically challenged of the three. Indian interference coupled with western pressure threatens fragile peace. Perceived Chinese connections drive panic-stricken US and Indian strategists against the nation. On the other front is the block of Islamic nations with own narrow, mostly extremist interests in the island. Swinging between these two extremes has not done any good for the island nation. On the other hand Thailand’s support comes without strings attached which must be grabbed in both hands.

If the canal is operational, the three friendly nations can manage and manipulate world’s largest and fastest growing shipping routes in their favour without being aligned to any of the superpower camps. This benefits the entire world.

Interestingly, USA is supportive of this plan which fears increasing Chinese and Indian influence in the region depriving US interests. Once the shipping and commercial naval clout is separated from military navy power of India and China, it creates space for all. At the moment India, USA and China can (if needed) enforce chokepoints in the region potentially disrupting commercial shipping.

Creating a Thailand, Sri Lanka and Burma shipping triangle is the only sustainable way this country can become a commercial hub and regain its geopolitical clout.

If Thialand’s much discussed Kra-Isthmus canal is dredged, it shifts South East Asian prosperity to the three historically close-knit nations of Thailand, Burma and Sri Lanka.
Following a strong pro-Sri Lanka stand at the UNHRC, a top Thailand delegation visited the island. They proposed Thailand-Sri Lanka-Burma naval co-operation. Superficially, it is yet another shallow statement. After all around the same time Indian, Japanese, Chinese and US naval missions berthed at Colombo. However, there is a deeper meaning to naval co-operation among the three historically close nations bound by one common thread. If Thialand’s much discussed Kra-Isthmus canal is dredged, it shifts South East Asian prosperity to these three nations.
Kra-Isthmus Canal
A map of Thailand shows a narrower sliver of land between Gulf of Thailand on its east and Andaman Sea on its west. Kra-Isthmus Canal is a proposed canal to be dredged linking the Gulf of Thailand and Andaman Sea. It was first proposed over 300 years ago. Enthusiasm surfaced over and over again but no action was ever taken. At the moment Thailand don’t intend to dredge it. However, it makes very good sense to do so. It will be a shipping industry gold mine. If made, it cuts travel distance by over a thousand kilometres; travel time by days and saves billions to shipping companies. Cost of import and export involving Asia will reduce significantly making more and more industries viable. Hambantota and Burmese ports will replace Singapore. Ships travelling west to east will have to call at either of these ports before making the journey across the canal. Still, many ships will be travelling from Suez to Singapore and Australia. Hambantota will be their interim destination as it sits at the three-way junction.
Thailand, Burma and Sri Lanka will immensely benefit from the Kra-Isthmus Canal that will propel them to become developed countries. Today it is more about reviving their historical cooperation in the modern capitalist world than limiting to religious affinities.
Interestingly, the proposed canal requires lesser dredging than the Suez canal and the Panama canal. However, due to various geopolitical setbacks deliberately caused by Singaporean and Malaysian interests on Thailand, the project has been buried. If the canal comes into existence, it will take prosperity away from these two nations. ASEAN was formed to keep these pressures on Thailand indirectly thereby not allowing it to go for the project. In 2006 a retired Thai diplomat revealed how a Tamil Singaporean diplomat blocked Sri Lanka from entering ASEAN in the 1960s. However, with Lee Kuan Yew’s days numbered, and, with no real replacement for him as the mentor and de facto ruler of Singapore ever since its independence, the time for action is fast approaching.
The project costs a few hundred billion dollars to complete. However, it can be recovered within a couple of years, if not months. Once in operation, it will be a huge geopolitical clout to all three nations.
A Departure from the Current Geopolitical Impasse
All three nations are caught up in a geopolitical gridlock pinning them down. Thailand’s progress is severely crippled by outside influence on political stability to keep the most populous ASEAN nation well below its potential. In addition, Malaysian and Indonesian funded Islamic terrorists cause further economic and security distress. Thailand’s handling of these terror groups has been criticised by ASEAN. Chinese preference for Singapore as a shipping hub where most shipping related industries are owned by the Chinese doesn’t help Thailand’s progress either. The once influential nation has withered to insignificance between US and Chinese geopolitical manoeuvrers.
Burma is also in a geopolitical rut. On one hand powerful Islamic extremist groups exert pressure while on another front the Indian-Chinese pressure restrains it. Western pressure and sanctions also bite into Burma. Just like Thailand, ASEAN heavyweights censure Burma for taking defensive action.
Sri Lanka may be the most geopolitically challenged of the three. Indian interference coupled with western pressure threatens fragile peace. Perceived Chinese connections drive panic-stricken US and Indian strategists against the nation. On the other front is the block of Islamic nations with own narrow, mostly extremist interests in the island. Swinging between these two extremes has not done any good for the island nation. On the other hand Thailand’s support comes without strings attached which must be grabbed in both hands.  
If the canal is operational, the three friendly nations can manage and manipulate world’s largest and fastest growing shipping routes in their favour without being aligned to any of the superpower camps. This benefits the entire world.
Interestingly, USA is supportive of this plan which fears increasing Chinese and Indian influence in the region depriving US interests. Once the shipping and commercial naval clout is separated from military navy power of India and China, it creates space for all. At the moment India, USA and China can (if needed) enforce chokepoints in the region potentially disrupting commercial shipping.

Creating a Thailand, Sri Lanka and Burma shipping triangle is the only sustainable way this country can become a commercial hub and regain its geopolitical clout.

3 Responses to “Buddhist Economic and Geopolitical Revival through Kra-Isthmus Canal”

  1. Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha Says:

    One nation not mentioned that would benefit from this canal is mighty China. She has the power to make this project come true whether Malaysia protests or not.

  2. jayasiri Says:

    Thanks Dilrook!…………I am not an expert on geo-politics BUT it is always a good idea to have serious relations with ALL countries in the region. These 3, Burma, Sri -Lanka & Thailand will bring so much economic benefit & it is no surproise, to hear some Tamil person blocking Sri Lanka’s entry to ASEAN in the past.

    They would like to see Sri -Lanka isoltaed. This will not happen if our busines & politial leaders give some impetus to this arrangement. It has been India’s main occupation to keep its neighbours uneasy, devided so that they can influence our every decision.

    I can remember even Late President Premadasa was encouraging Sri lanka to join as a member even on a interim basis. Sri Lanka can & will join, as flourishing BUDDHIST sentiments we have with our Buddhist nations BURMA & THAILAND tis is so much of value to all.

    I am sure with some political & financial capital, this dredging of Kra-Isthmus Canal will benefit all three countries immensely.

    Thank you for the opportunity to voice my opinion……….Another expat from Canada~ J

  3. Ananda-USA Says:

    JAYAWEWA!

    Sri Lanka Rises from the Ashes of the 30-year Eelamist War

    Every Day, in Every Way, We are Forging Ahead to becoming the New Wonder of Asia!
    ………………
    Expressway from Sri Lanka’s Katunayake airport to capital to be opened in September

    ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.

    July 16, Colombo: The new expressway linking Sri Lanka’s main international airport in Katunayake to Colombo will be ready to open in September, the Economic Development Ministry said Monday.

    The Ministry said arrangements are being made to open the 26 kilometer-long Katunayake – Kelaniya Expressway built at a cost of US$ 291 million in September.

    Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa inspected the expressway Sunday and instructed the relevant officials to plant trees native to Sri Lanka on either side of the road after conserving the marshy lands on either side of the expressway and cleaning the Dutch Canal.

    According to the Ministry, the highway is planned to have three lanes each way from Colombo to Peliyagoda and two lanes each way, from Peliyagoda to Katunayake with the width ranging from 26 to 34 meters.

    Speed limit will be 80 kilometers per hour (50 mph) for the first eight kilometers (5.0 mi) and 110 km/h (68 mph) for the rest of the road.

    The expressway, built under the direction of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, is part of the highway network connecting the already functioning Southern Expressway, proposed Northern Expressway and the Colombo Outer Circular Highway that is under construction.

    Once completed the road network will provide fast and easy access to the country’s north and south and will avoid traffic when reaching the capital Colombo.

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