China’s ‘Malacca dilemma’ remains

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According to a media report, amid the border standoff between India and China, the latter has suffered a severe blow from Thailand, which said it will scrap the Kra Canal project that Beijing wanted to build to shorten its access to the Indian Ocean and also delayed the purchase of two Chinese submarines worth USD 724 million giving in to the public pressure.
China was pinning its hopes on the Kra Canal project, a proposal to construct a 120-kilometre mega canal cutting through the isthmus of Kra in Thailand.
This canal could have been a crucial strategic asset for China, allowing its navy to quickly move ships between its newly constructed bases in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean without diverting over 1,100 kilometres south to round the tip of Malaysia.
This was in line with Beijing’s long-term ambitions to bypass the Strait of Malacca, a narrow chokepoint between the Malay Peninsula and the Indonesian island of Sumatra that divides the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
As things stand, Thailand no longer wants the Kra Canal as it is turned out to be infeasible, both economically and politically.
Economic reasons being that unlike Suez Canal or Panama Canal that would have helped reduce a substantial amount of time or expenditure, Kra Canal is an alternate route through the Malacca, Sunda or Lombok Straits that would not generate revenue, which will not justify its construction cost.
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Besides from the economic reasons, a Thai canal would pose a little threat to the US and its allies, including India, which can effectively counter Chinese expansionism with the up-gradation of domestic forward bases in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Along with the decision to scrap the canal project, the Thai government has dropped the purchase of Chinese-made military submarines for a year. The Royal Thai Navy asked the parliament’s budget committee to slash the submarine procurement funding to zero for this fiscal year.
Government spokesperson Anucha Burapachaisri said that Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who also holds the post of Defence Minister, told the Navy to postpone the agreement until the fiscal year 2022.
The decision came amid protests by the youth who are seeking political reforms and protections for civil liberties. The country’s economy has also witnessed a slump due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
China has lost all its friends in the Indo-Pacific region. Thailand itself, for example, is a part of the Milk Tea Alliance- an online democratic solidarity movement run by internet users from Thailand, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
China could also find itself ruled out from the land pathway project amid the growing public pressure which Thailand is considering as an alternative to the Kra Canal project, leaving behind Bejing in the age-long “Malacca Dilemma”.
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