China's potential participation in Thailand's high-speed railway project will become a "new highlight" of the two countries' strategic cooperation, as it will further boost economic and trade cooperation, strengthen bilateral ties and enhance regional connectivity.
"Connectivity is opportunity," Pansak Winyarat, chief economic adviser to Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, said recently in a Bangkok seminar to introduce Thailand's railway schemes.
Noting that China's southwestern region has grown to be a major driving force in the country's economic growth, Pansak said a high-speed rail network connecting the region with Southeast Asia would serve the interests of both sides, as they could better complement each other's disadvantages through faster and cheaper transportation of goods and passengers.
It will facilitate industry upgrades of both regions and bring about common development, he said.
On a domestic scale, the economist said the multi-billion-U.S.-dollar system was also designed to speed up the movement of goods and passengers within Thailand, promoting domestic consumption and boosting economic growth.
In particular, the project will help alleviate poverty in areas along the railway line, as business would thrive, sprouting restaurants, convenience stores and hotels, he added.
Located in the center of Southeast Asia, Thailand has been hoping to become a regional logistics hub. But those who visit the kingdom could be surprised to see how outdated its rail system is.
Equipped with narrow gauge and decrepit cars, the rail system in Thailand lags behind the country's economic growth and fails to satisfy its growing business and tourism demands.
The Yingluck administration, since taking office in 2011, has been determined to make a change. In September, the lower house of the parliament gave the green light to an infrastructure overhaul scheme worth about 2.2 trillion Thai baht (about 70 billion U.S. dollars), aiming to modernize and expand the land transportation system throughout the country.
With a head station in Bangkok, the proposed layout of the high-speed rail network will link the country's major provinces with each other and with its neighboring countries, including China, Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia and Singapore.
There are four main routes: Bangkok-Pitsanuloak, which will be stretched up to Chiang Mai, which is viewed as the country's northern logistics hub and tourist destination hub; Bangkok-Nakorn Ratchasima, which will be extended to Nong Khai province, viewed as the gateway to the Lao capital of Vientiane; Bangkok-Rayong, the country's eastern seaboard industrial hub and deep-sea port; and Bangkok-Hua Hin, a flourishing tourist destination and gateway to the southern region.
Among them, the northeastern line, which connects Bangkok and Nong Khai, is grabbing the most attention as it will traverse through Laos to reach China's southwestern Kunming city.
The first phase of the project is set to be completed by 2020. By then, Thailand is expected to become the first country in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations(ASEAN) to offer high-speed railway services.
China's high-speed rail technology has developed and proved its reliability and capability within its own territory, and now will take that abroad. Many Thai politicians and analysts have pointed out that compared with Japan and other bidders, China holds advantages in price, technology and experience.
During his three-day visit to Thailand earlier this month, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang conveyed his country's willing to participate in Thailand's high-speed railway project, stressing that "railway cooperation can become a new highlight in China-Thailand cooperation."
"There is enormous potential for railway cooperation between our two countries and China is keen to advance such cooperation," said the Chinese premier when addressing the Thai parliament.
Following his speech, Jua Rajaseeha, chairman of Thailand's House Transport Committee, told Xinhua that China has the modern technology for high-speed trains which would be suitable for Thailand. Endi