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Thai opposition leader calls for early construction of high-speed rail linking China via Laos

By Surasak Tumcharoen (Xinhua)

17:06, March 29, 2013

BANGKOK, March 29 (Xinhua) -- Former Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva urged Thursday the government to build a high- speed railway to link Thailand with China via Laos at the initial stage of a historic 730-billion-U.S.-dollar logistics reconstruction scheme.

He also expressed opposition to the government's plan to borrow loans to finance the scheme, saying it should instead be covered by the government budget.

Debating a legislation seeking loans to finance the Thai government's "railroad revolution" and other logistics reconstruction plans, the leader of the opposition Democrat Party advised that the planned construction of a high-speed train project between Bangkok and Nong Khai, Thailand's northeastern province sharing border with Laos, should be implemented ahead of a similar project to link the capital city with the northern city of Chiang Mai, the hometown of incumbent Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

"Why should a Bangkok-Chiang Mai high-speed route be built ahead of a Bangkok-Nong Khai route? Why should a Bangkok-Chiang Mai route be built ahead of a Bankok-Padang Besar route?

"To serve the prime minister's policy toward the making of a connectivity between Thailand and the ASEAN neighbor states, the Nong Khai, Padang Besar and Dawei destinations should be taken into account first," said Abhisit.

The initial stage of the seven-year logistics and infrastructure reconstruction plans calls for the build-up of the high-speed train system between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, with Pitsanuloke province as a middle-link station, in addition to the routes between the capital and Nakorn Ratchasima in the northeastern region, the capital and Hua Hin in the upper southern region and the capital and Rayong in the eastern region.

According to Abhisit, China already planned to build a high- speed train project from Kunming and other southern Chinese spots to the Lao capital of Vientiane so that passengers may proceed down to Thailand via Nong Khai. "But there'll be no high-speed trains to link Nong Khai with Bangkok under the government's seven- year logistics reconstruction plans," he said.

The Yingluck government is seeking the legislative endorsement for its bill to borrow 730 billion U.S. dollars in loans to rebuild and expand railways, roads and other logistics systems. Put on debate from Thursday until Friday, the bill is speculated to sail through the first hurdle in the House of Representatives, however.

Abhisit commented that such large-scale reconstruction plans need not to be funded by any interest-incurring loans, either from within the country or abroad. The populist government could put the "railroad revolution" scheme to work simply by using a yearly budget instead of borrowing huge sums of money, calculated to carry as much as 1 trillion U.S. dollars in interest over a 50- year period of repayment, he insisted.

He added he feared the sought-after loans would merely turn Thailand into a critical debt-ridden state in the long run.

The government has planned to use high-speed trains to accommodate passengers in the capital city and major provinces, build double-tracked railways, regional motorways and four-lane roads linking the country's major provinces with border towns in all regions of the country.

"We all agree to the idea to rebuild and expand logistics and infrastructural systems throughout the country, but that does not necessarily mean that we'd have to borrow as much as 2.2 trillion baht (730 billion U.S. dollars) loan to do it.

"The government could eventually use a normal yearly budget to run those railroad and logistics projects by allowing some deficit to incur in that budget over the same period of time during which they will be implemented," said the opposition leader.

Nevertheless, Yingluck maintained that the government needs the 730 billion dollars of loans to carry out the projects so that, she said, they will not be interrupted, suspended or even scrapped up by future governments for any political or economic reasons. A budget-funded project pushed and implemented by a current government might possibly be delayed or entirely canceled by a future one, she added.

The prime minister reassured that the railways, roads and other logistics reconstruction projects will be carried out in a transparent, examinable way, adding the 730-billion-dollar loan will remain roughly within 50% of the country's gross domestic product.

"Those logistics projects will be definitely done for optimum interests of the people and the country in the long run. There'll be no such thing as non-transparency as feared by critics.

"They will certainly help elevate Thailand's competitiveness in world and regional trade, cut logistic costs, increase people's incomes, improve people's quality of life and promote tourist industry in this country and elsewhere throughout the ASEAN community," said Yingluck.

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