DPG Policy Brief

The Strategic Dimensions of Thailand’s Kra Land Bridge

Date: December 09, 2023
The Third Belt and Road Forum held in Beijing on October 18, 2023 saw Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin pitching the oft-discussed proposal for a connectivity corridor across the Kra Isthmus, and seeking its integration into investments planned under China’s Belt and Road Initiative.   The difference was that the canal proposed earlier was replaced by a land bridge, with container cargo being transported between the ports of Ranong and Chumphon by rail or road.  There have been suggestions that the ramifications of the proposed land bridge could be similar to those of the Suez and Panama canals.

In this brief, the author compares the Suez and Panama canals with the proposed Kra project, concluding that a land bridge, permitting movement of only cargo and not ships (or warships), cannot have a comparable impact. 

He also assesses the economic viability of the project, observing that the actual distance saved for maritime traffic will be under 700 Km, and questioning whether the necessity for transhipment and overland transportation across Kra will actually save costs.  He finds that the economic rationale for the proposed land bridge must thus rest on the development gains and traffic generated along the new connectivity corridor, rather than attempts to woo traffic moving along the current International Shipping Lane.

The author goes on to examine the strategic and security considerations that would come into play for Thailand. The Kra canal project was never given a go-ahead by the Thai government due to in part to internal security considerations, given the continuing low level insurgency in Thailand’s ethnic Malay south. Ranong itself is located along the border with an unstable Myanmar. A nationalist perspective could make Thailand wary about giving away the Kra land bridge project in its entirety to international investors.

Finally, the author addresses strategic concerns about the Kra project that might arise for India based on three factors: exploitation by the PLA (Navy) to support activity in the Bay of Bengal; the impact on China’s Malacca Dilemma; and the enhancement of China’s regional influence.

He concludes that the Kra land bridge poses little military threat to India, which has already started to upgrade its forward bases in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands to counter China’s expansionist designs. For the present, India should keep a close eye on developments, but there is no need to rush into any precipitate action.

To read this Policy Brief Volume VIII, Issue 30, please click The Strategic Dimensions of Thailand’s Kra Land Bridge”.