Tuesday, April 05, 2005

An Asian Panama Canal?

Time and again, over the last three centuries, the vision of a vital waterway linking the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea has surfaced. China badly needs imported oil to fuel its growth and its leaders are seriously looking at the Kra Canal as an alternative to the Straits of Malacca. The Straits, which presents the shortest sea journey between Europe, Middle East and North Asia, is one of the most important waterways in the world, and most of China’s and Japan’s oil imports pass through it. But the Straits is narrow: The Philip Channel near Singapore is only 2.5km wide, which creates a natural bottleneck with the potential for a collision, grounding or sabotage by terrorists. To cost at least US$20 billion, the project proposes to carve out a 50-km waterway across Thailand’s narrow Kra Isthmus. The Kra Canal could pose a bigger threat to Singapore than the loss of manufacturing jobs, the exodus of business to China and the devastation of Sars put together. Singapore, despite its high-tech reputation, has always relied on its position as Asia’s top transshipment point for its prosperity.


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