Saturday, September 21, 2019

Thailand to sign rail pact with Laos, China

Apr 22. 2019
Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen (L) waves beside Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha as they ride a train during a ceremony to connect the railway line between Cambodia and Thailand in Banteay Meanchey province on April 22, 2019. // AFP
Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen (L) waves beside Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha as they ride a train during a ceremony to connect the railway line between Cambodia and Thailand in Banteay Meanchey province on April 22, 2019. // AFP
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By The Nation

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THAILAND will sign a memorandum of cooperation with China and Laos for a rail link aimed at fulfilling a regional connectivity ambition, when Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-Cha visits Beijing this week for the second Belt and Road Forum, the Foreign Ministry said yesterday.

Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith will sign the pact with his Laotian counterpart Bounchanh Sinthavong and China’s vice chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission Hu Zucai on Thursday on the sideline of the forum. 

The memorandum will detail the framework for the three countries in relation to the railway network from southern China via Laos to Thailand. 

The pact will also cover the construction of a new bridge across the Mekong River linking the Laotian capital with Nong Khai province, Vilawan Mangklatanakul, director of the Foreign Ministry’s International Economic Affairs Department, said.

China has invested in and is helping Laos build a 400-kilometre railway track from the China-Laos border to Vientiane. The construction is halfway through, while Thailand’s 3.5km high-speed railway is also making good progress. 

Prayut, attending the second Belt and Road Forum from April 25 to 27 in his capacity as Asean chair, will update the forum on the Asean connectivity master plan, Vilawan said. 

The junta’s brainchild – the Eastern Economic Corridor – will also be promoted at the forum to lure investors, notably from China, she said, adding that the plan is to transform the Kingdom into a regional supply-chain hub. 

China’s President Xi Jinping launched the Belt and Road Initiative in 2013 to link his country with other countries via many infrastructure development projects. 

So far, 124 countries and 29 international organisations have signed cooperation pacts on the initiative with China. 

The first summit on the initiative was held in 2017, while the second forum this week is expected to conclude with a joint communique to forge cooperation among regional countries. 

Prayut is to meet with Chinese President Xi and his counterpart, Premier Li Keqiang, to update them about Thailand's role as Asean chair and other bilateral issues, Vilawan said. 

Connectivity has emerged as the key element of regional development, and Prayut yesterday joined Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen to inaugurate a new railway link on between the two countries at the border towns of Aranyaprathet and Poipet. 

The two premiers also witnessed a signing ceremony at a Thai border post before riding together to the Cambodian town of Poipet on a train donated by Thailand. 

Hun Sen described their journey as “historic” and thanked Thailand for its efforts “to reconnect  Cambodia and Thailand”.

The rail link will also serve as a connection between Laos and is Southeast Asian neighbours, Hun Sen said. 

Bilateral trade between Thailand and Cambodia currently stands at $6 billion (Bt190 billion).

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