Recently Thailand gives a double blow to China by canceling the Kra Canal Project and delayed the purchase of Yuan-class S26T submarines. Kra canal was one of the most important projects of China under China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Instead of the canal, Thailand is considering the road and railway network with deep seaports.
Setback for China
China’s global vision of a new Maritime Silk Road by developing the Kra Canal was broken by Thailand’s latest decision. The modern Kra or Thai Canal project was to be connected to the various Chinese infrastructure and connectivity projects in the region. The dream of connecting the maritime trade route through the Indian Ocean to Europe and establishing their dominance in respective water bodies will get a huge setback.
The $28 Billion deal was scrapped when Thailand founds the deal to be less profitable and an economic liability. Thailand also predicted China’s old game of debt trap in which many nations already lost their assets. The pressure from the United States, India, opposition, and the public was also there. For Thailand, the issue is much complex, the north and south ethnic divide between majority Buddhists and Malay-Muslims is very old which sometimes takes a violent turn. It’s a belief that by physically separating the less developed south province where the separatist groups are more active will inflame the fight for a separate nation.
Another factor is the ASEAN (Association of southeastern Asian nations), this canal will affect the trade routes of Indonesia and Malaysia which will create friction and difference among this organization.
Then another blow was yet to come when Thailand delayed the deal of $724 million. Thailand was one of the first countries that agreed to buy Chinese Navy hardware and finalized the deal in 2017. According to which in May 2017 one S26T diesel-electric submarine, with the government-to-government contract was signed worth $434 million. Currently, Thailand postponed the deal of 2 submarines amidst the public protest and poor economic condition.
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Importance of Kra Canal
This project aimed to connect the Pacific ocean (South China sea) to the Indian Ocean (Andaman Sea).Also, this project was very important to China because this canal was aimed to provide an alternative to the Malacca Strait -commonly known as the chokepoint of China. Around 80% of the total oil transport and maximum goods passed through this strait which is present at the mouth of Indonesia and Malaysia. This 120 KM mega project not only diminish time & distance (by around 1100 KM) and reduce the traffic of China’s busiest sea route but will also provide the Chinese Navy an alternate route during times of conflict.
While the Chinese government has refrained from making any official claims, reports state that China and Thailand signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the canal project in Guangzhou in 2015.
News concerning India
This news is a sigh of relief for India and it’s armed forces that were deployed at the strategic locations to choke the Malacca strait after the Galwan Valley clash.
India still has an upper hand in this region, India’s strategy to counter the String of Pearls with its Necklace of Diamond plan fits here. Just like China, India is also developing naval assets in different nations. Changi and Sabang Naval base are part of this strategy and can play a major role to counter Chinese adversaries in this region.
Changi Naval Base, Singapore: In 2018, Prime Minister Modi signed an agreement with Singapore. The agreement has provided direct access to this base to the Indian Navy. While sailing through the South China Sea, the Indian Navy can refuel and rearm its ship through this base.
Sabang Port, Indonesia: In 2018, India got the military access to Sabang Port which is located right at the entrance of Malacca Strait. This strait is one of the world’s famous choke points. A large chunk of trade and crude oil passes on to China through this region.
Another factor is the INS Baaz, it’s a Naval air station under the Tri-service theatre in Andaman and Nicobar Island. It means that the assets of the Army, Navy, and Air force are present there, this port is just 100 KM away from the Sabang Port, thus providing the control of both ends of the 6-degree channel- most the Chinese goods pass through this channel only.
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Losing Game For China
Thailand was considered one of the strongest allies of China but this recent event depicts another story of this alliance. Many nations are facing the aggressive nature of China including India, Japan, S. Korea, Vietnam, and other Asian countries. The aggressive nature of China is being criticized all over the world and is closely monitored by the Quad ( India, US, Japan, Australia) and 5 Eyes (US, Australia, Canada, UK, New Zealand). The formation of the Blue Dot Network by the US, Japan, and Australia will play a vital role in the protection of small nations from the debt- trap, and tactics of China.