Signaling further integration, Thailand pledges to build high-speed railway to China
The economies of China and Thailand look set to become more integrated with the completion of the first of two stages of a USD 12 billion (EUR 11.7 billion) high-speed rail link connecting the two countries.
Construction on the north end of the line is expected to be completed by 2026, opening the way for faster connections of people and freight traffic. Thailand is a major supplier of seafood to China, but prior to the pandemic, Chinese visitors had become a major economic driver in Thailand, upping seafood consumption in major Thai tourist destinations.
Connecting southern Chinese provinces to Southeast Asia has been a priority of Chinese economic planners, who have promoted high-speed rail as a means to transport passengers and perishable cargo like seafood within China.
The planned railway will boast 609 kilometers (378 miles) of track running from Bangkok to the northeastern border province of Nong Khai, where a bridge will be built over the Mekong River to connect with the China-Laos line, which has already been built.
However, the advancement of the project comes as China is dealing with a debt crisis related to its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a foreign policy blueprint that drove the construction of numerous transportation and infrastructure projects across Asia and beyond. Several of China’s partners in the BRI, including Pakistan, Sri Lanka and several African states, have struggled with higher energy and food costs and the impact of higher U.S. interest rates affecting dollar-denominated loans, creating a cash crunch.
Since 2013, China has spent USD 932 billion (EUR 913 billion) on BRI projects abroad, with USD 561 billion (EUR 549 billion) of that total spent on construction completed by Chinese firms with loans issued by Chinese banks and development institutions. The top foreign recipient of BRI-related spending in 2021 was Iraq, where China invested USD 10.5 billion (EUR 10.2 billion) in construction projects over the past decade.
Photo courtesy of Tata Steel Thailand