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(May 3, 2019) Rail deals must have accountability - Thitinan Pongsudhirak

 Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha's recent participation in the second Belt and Road Forum (BRF) in Beijing was problematic on many levels. On what basis did Gen Prayut negotiate a rail deal between Thailand and China? What are the details and cost-benefit considerations of this deal? The lack of transparency and public accountability surrounding the Thailand and China rail plan is likely to pose future questions and problems for a huge infrastructure project Thailand can use, but according to whose terms its people must be the main beneficiary.

When Chinese President Xi Jinping hosted the first BRF last year to build international cooperation and support around his signature geo-strategy, known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Thailand was not invited. At the time, it was viewed in some quarters that Thailand was not included because it had been decidedly slow to develop its 607-kilometre rail line from Bangkok to Nong Khai, to connect with the Kunming-Vientiane rail network being built and readied for 2022. The Kunming-Vientiane rail is the BRI's pilot project of sorts, as it would connect southern China with mainland Southeast Asia in one of six pathways known as the China-Indo-China Peninsular Economic Corridor.