BANGKOK, April 25 -- Thailand's government said it is "making progress" with the much-delayed high-speed Thai-Chinese rail line that is to link Thailand, Laos and China, as the three countries prepared to ink another agreement this week at Beijing's Belt and Road summit.
Formal talks on the project - a rail line expected to stretch 873 km (542 miles) - began in 2014 but have been beset by delays, including disagreements over design, financing AND technical assistance. The Thai project is part of China's plan for a network of links across Southeast Asia that would eventually connect Kunming in southwest China with Singapore. It is also part of a broader Chinese initiative to build infrastructure to connect China with Asia, Europe and beyond.
Thailand decided in 2016 against Chinese financing for the project because of high interest rates - a complaint of similar projects in several countries - and decided to fund the 170 billion baht ($5.32 billion) Thai portion of project itself. So far only the first 3.5 km of the line have been constructed in Thailand, but a Transport Ministry official told Reuters on Tuesday the first section leading to Bangkok should be completed in two to three years. The project will be re-energised when Thailand, Laos and China sign a three-way memorandum of cooperation on Thursday at a Beijing conference to build a railway bridge connecting the Thai province of Nong Khai and the Lao capital Vientianne, said the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs. "The connecting bridge will make the project an example of seamless connectivity in the region," Lada Phumas, director of the ministry's East Asia division, told reporters at a news briefing. "The project is going at its own pace. We must stress that the project is making progress according to our goals," she added. The Belt and Road summit, which takes place from Thursday to Saturday in Beijing, will be attended by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and his foreign and transport ministers. The comments from Thailand come after Malaysia and China agreed on April 12 to resume construction of a 688-km (430 mile) rail project.
The Thai-Chinese railway is divided into two sections: the first is a 250-km (155 mile) line linking the Thai capital Bangkok and the northeastern province of Nakhon Ratchasima. That section is expected to be operational in two to three years, Chaiwat Thongkamkoon, permanent-secretary of the Ministry of Transport, told Reuters this week. He could not provide a timeline for the completion of the full project. The other part links Nakhon Ratchasima and the Thai border at Nongkhai province, where the bridge - the subject of Thursday's agreement - will connect the Thai rail with the Laos network. The construction of parts of the high-speed rail is done separately in each country. Thailand says it is not accepting financing from China, but using Chinese expertise and buys equipments and rail technology from China. "That is why this connection area (the bridge between Laos and Thailand) is important. It symbolises that the Belt and Road initiative through this southern corridor is really happening," Chaiwat said. He said back-and-forth discussions between China and Thailand have caused delays, but negotiations on the highly technical train system - consisting of signalling, power, and track-work - are now near completion. "The Chinese developed the rail initially for their domestic use, and they have come far to export such technology but it is still relatively new for them in transferring their technology to others," Chaiwat said, adding that most of the documents, training courses and design were initially in Chinese. "The negotiation is 90 percent completed and I think a deal can be tabled and signed by both sides in a month's time," Chaiwat said. "After that it's all about construction."
BANGKOK, April 6 -- The Mekong River Commission (MRC) has raised concerns with Laos over the Pak Lay hydropower dam on the Mekong River.
While Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam have accepted a prior agreement on the proposed 770 megawatt hydropower project in Laos’ Xayaboury Province, they have jointly released the statement calling on the Lao government to make every effort to address and mitigate potential adverse cross-border impacts of the project. Somkiat Prajamwong, Office of the National Water Resources (ONWR) secretary-general and head of Thailand’s representatives to the MRC Joint Committee Special Session, said that after the conclusion on Pak Lay Dam’s prior consultation process, the three MRC members commented on the potential transboundary impacts to neighbouring countries from the construction and operation of the project. Somkiat said that Thailand and other two Mekong states asked Laos to prevent the possible adverse impacts of the dam to the river’s hydrology and ecosystems by ensuring that the dam will be properly designed.
“We requested Laos to pay attention on the potential socioeconomic and environmental transboundary impacts from the proposed dam to the Thai communities along Mekong River bank in eight North Eastern provinces,” he said. “We also would like to be assured that the dam is safe and there will be a comprehensive program for monitoring the impacts of the project during construction and operation stages and sharing of information on the river’s hydrology, water quality, and fisheries among the MRC members.”
The proposed site for the dam is about 100 kilometres upstream from the Thai border at Loei’s Chiang Khan District. Cambodia also said that further assessment on the transboundary environmental impacts and proper mitigation plans and measures are still needed to ensure that the people downstream will not be affected by the dam. However, Laos member Chanthanet Boualapa said that his country is committed to addressing negative impacts from the dam seriously and welcomed future engagement, joint monitoring and information sharing to improve the project.
NAKHON PHANOM, December 31 -- Police on Monday were trying to identify the bodies of two men dumped into the Mekong River with concrete placed inside their ruptured bellies. The bodies washed up on a riverbank in this northeastern province.
Police suspected the victims were political activists. The two bodies were found in That Phanom and Muang districts handcuffed and with their ankles tied together. Their bellies had been ripped open and chunks of concrete stuffed inside them. The bodies had then been placed in sacks and dumped into the river. Local police collected samples from the bodies for examination at a forensic facility in Khon Kaen province. Sources said national police chief Chakthip Chaijinda ordered police handling the case to speed up the investigation in order to verify the belief that the victims were political activists.
According to sources, relatives of political activists in Bangkok contacted Nakhon Phanom police, requesting to see the bodies and provide information that might help identify them. Detectives were quoted as saying that the handcuffs found on the bodies were often used in Laos and Vietnam. Nakhon Phanom police commander Thanachart Rodkhlongtan said the men were murdered about a week ago, and their bodies may have been dumped into the Mekong River five days ago. Police would try to identify them from relatives' information and DNA tests, he said.
VIENTIANE, Nov. 7 -- The second Laos-China Film Festival with open-air movies being screened across Laos has expanded cultural exchange.
The Chinese embassy to Laos in cooperation with the Lao Department of Cinema under the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism and China Radio International in Laos (CRI Laos) jointly opened the second Laos-China Film Festival Tour in Lao capital Vientiane on last Friday.
"The event brought three excellent Chinese movies dubbed into Lao language with subtitles in Chinese," said the political counselor at the Chinese embassy, Zhao Chenggang.
The Chinese and Lao films have started open-air screenings in the provinces of Savannakhet, Champassak, Attapeu, Vientiane, Xayaboury, Xieng Khuang and Huaphan in November and December, CRI Laos told Xinhua on Wednesday. To make the Chinese films more appealing to local audiences, CRI invited local stars to dub characters' voices into Lao. "Films have become an important part of encouraging cultural exchange between peoples," Vientiane Times quoted Zhao as saying.
Speaking at last Friday's launch, Lao Deputy Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism Boua Ngeun Xaphouvong said the festival played an important role in boosting the exchange of culture between the two nations. It would particularly encourage Lao people to learn about Chinese culture through the medium of motion pictures. Boua Ngeun hoped the festival would play a part in continuing to enhance relations and cooperation between the two countries.