Thai Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai
has denied reports the government plans to build a canal across southern Thailand
, bypassing the busy Malacca Straits shipping
lane, as reported in last week's Maritime Week.
He said that while the idea is still being studied, the construction of a canal is not a simple issue and no decision has been made. If the study found it feasible to construct the canal, the country might build it, he said.
It is estimated that the project would cost about $21.2 billion and take six years to complete.
Proponents of the canal claim it would bring huge economic benefits and could threaten Singapore's position as the region's leading port. They say the Kra canal - so-called because it would cut across the Kra Isthmus, which is Thailand's narrowest point just north of Peninsula Malaysia - would bring jobs and help boost the economy.
Abhisit Vejjajiva, minister attached to the prime minister's office who overseas the Thai Board of Investment, played down claims that the project was needed to boost economic growth. "The original idea was that the canal would kick-start the economy after the economic crisis broke out, but now there is no urgent need for that," he said.
Abhisit said the canal's potential environmental impact needs thorough examination and there is still not enough solid data about potential investors.