As an obsessed chess player I like to view things from a different perspective. At the point that we are speaking a lot of pieces are moving on the Political Chessboard. To mention some of these points; A report by the UN on cruelties among the North Korean Government, The Chinese Air Defense Zone and Thailand’s elections and demonstration continuing. During my stay I will try to cover as much of the topics as possible. But for today I like to take you on a trip towards the Isthmus of Kra, the route towards Chinese Supremacy.
Over the last four years (2009 to 2012) China has experienced an average annual growth of 9.17% [1. http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.KD.ZG]. However this growth has come to a fall last year (2012) with a decline of 1.5 points on it’s GDP. Even though the numbers for 2013 have not been published yet, it is expected that the growth for 2013 will be slower than since the slowest economic growth in 1999. The decline in growth have been caused by a lot of different things according to analyst; high manufacturing costs, the housing market and the high debts of local authorities [2. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/01/china-growth-manufacturing-decline-property].
Strait of Malacca
Over the recent years the Strait of Malacca (see map) has been pushed to it’s transportation limits. The Strait is the second largest shipping route in the world. Annually twenty-five percent of the shipping industry passes through the Strait. The strait has a length of 805 kilometers and is at it’s narrowest point 2.8 kilometers wide. The strait has since the growth of the Chinese Economy reached it’s maximum capacity. Besides this ships with a depth of more than 25 meters cannot sail through the strait and they have to take other routes [3. http://www.iho-ohi.net/iho_pubs/standard/S-23/S23_1953.pdf] [9. http://library.utem.edu.my/e-melaka/koleksi%20melaka/geografi/ThestrategicvalueoftheStraitofMalacca.pdf].
Beijing wants to become independent from the Strait of Malacca to secure it’s current growth and to become a modern supremacy. Almost all it’s essential resource and export are currently moving through the Strait. Besides this the Strait is in control of at least Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. Beijing is aware that if the country wants to become independent on economical but as well military Supremacy it should not depend on a route that is not under it’s own control.
The Chinese government has over the recent years analyzed different options one of the options is a transportation line through Myanmar/ Burma. However the calculations for this were merely positive due to the cost of the operations of this mission, besides the costs also the construction of the plan would take to long. Other considerations in not choosing for import and export operations crossing through Myanmar/ Burma have been made because of the unstable government which have been a democracy for only three years now. [10. http://thediplomat.com/2013/10/myanmars-lawless-land/2/]
The Isthmus of Kra
A long strip of 44 kilometers wide at it’s narrowest point divides the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea, or from Chinese Perspective the south Chinese Sea from the Indian Ocean. The Isthmus does connect Malaysia and Singapore in the South to Myanmar and Thailand in the North (see map). As expected by Robert D. Kaplan [4. Robert D. Kaplan – Monsoon. The Indian Ocean and the future of America, 2011, Random House, Inc, New York, P.341] this stripe of land will be of great importance towards the further continuation of Chinese economic growth but also if the country wants to become a Supremacy.
The Isthmus is for the biggest part territory of Thailand, it is considered as unstable since 2004 more than 5500 people have been killed by rebel groups. Especially security personal, Muslims collaborating with the government and government officials have been target of attacks. Thailand has held it’s first official peace talks with Southern armed groups, however since there have been no sings of major breakthroughs. [5. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/asia-pacific/2013/12/roadside-bomb-kills-thai-soldiers-201312119229245791.html]
Beijing have been looking towards the Ishtmus of Kra as one of the possible solutions towards it’s growth problems. Beijing outsourced in 2011 a research project towards Dubai Ports World [10. Robert D. Kaplan – Monsoon. The Indian Ocean and the future of America, 2011, Random House, Inc, New York, P.313] to look into the options of building 1. a Kra Canal, or 2. a container port. Beijing is especially interrested in the first option due to the fact that it will offer the country an extra route for it’s economic sector but also for it’s military which is now mostly blocked on strategic places. The Chinese government has already confirmed that it is willing to invest 20 billion us dollars in building the project. [6. http://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/default/files/public/The%20World%20Today/2012/february/0212vines.pdf] [7. http://journals.sub.uni-hamburg.de/giga/jsaa/article/view/584].
If the project will be realised by the Chinese in the future, than this will not only give a positive boost towards the Chinese economy but it will also create a positive stimulation towards Thailand’s economy. The project will create labor and extra industry, which the country more than welcomes since the recent protests in the country have damaged the economy. Robert D. Kaplan further describes that the project will have the size equivalent towards the Panama Canal project, which worked as a catalyst for the economy and military power of the United States and was one of the main reasons for the might of the country today.
The fast growth of the Chinese Economy has caused transportation routes to reach their maximum capacity, even though their are different options available the best option for China would be in my opinion to build the Kra Canal. Over time it will give the Chinese Economy a boost, because it will be less dependent and transportation time will be shorter. Besides this it also offers an extra route for it’s military powers which now has only three main exits, which are located in the south-east. The Kra Canal will enlarge the countries possibility and will be a good development for a stable region of free market economies.
Even though all this sounds very promising this is only the openingsgame, in my next article I will write about how other countries in the Asian region are looking towards this developments and what pawns they have on this enormous chess game.