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Thailand set to sign rail link pact with Laos, China

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Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha (centre left) and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen (centre right) shake hands during the groundbreaking ceremony for the Stung Bot International Checkpoint on Monday. THE NATION (THAILAND)

Thailand set to sign rail link pact with Laos, China

Thailand will sign a memorandum of cooperation with China and Laos for a rail link aimed at fulfilling a regional connectivity ambition, when Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha visits Beijing this week for the second Belt and Road Forum, the Foreign Ministry said on Monday.

Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith will sign the pact with his Laotian counterpart Bounchanh Sinthavong and China’s vice chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission Hu Zucai on Thursday on the sideline of the forum.

The memorandum will detail the framework for the three countries in relation to the railway network from southern China via Laos to Thailand.

The pact will also cover the construction of a new bridge across the Mekong River linking the Laotian capital with Nong Khai province, said Vilawan Mangklatanakul, director of the Foreign Ministry’s International Economic Affairs Department.

China has invested in and is helping Laos build a 400km railway track from the China-Laos border to Vientiane. The construction is halfway through.

Prayut, attending the second Belt and Road Forum from April 25 to 27 in his capacity as Asean chair, will update the forum on the Asean connectivity master plan, Vilawan said.

The junta’s brainchild – the Eastern Economic Corridor – will also be promoted at the forum to lure investors, notably from China, she said, adding that the plan is to transform the kingdom into a regional supply-chain hub.

Chinese President Xi Jinping launched the Belt and Road Initiative in 2013 to link his country with other countries via many infrastructure development projects.

So far, 124 countries and 29 international organisations have signed cooperation pacts on the initiative with China.

The first summit on the initiative was held in 2017, while the second forum this week is expected to conclude with a joint communique to forge cooperation among regional countries.

Prayut is to meet with Chinese President Xi and his counterpart, Premier Li Keqiang, to update them about Thailand’s role as Asean chair and other bilateral issues, Vilawan said.

Connectivity has emerged as the key element of regional development, and Prayut on Monday joined Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen to inaugurate a new railway link between the two countries at the border towns of Aranyaprathet and Poipet.

The two premiers also witnessed a signing ceremony at a Thai border post before riding together to the Cambodian town of Poipet on a train donated by Thailand.

Hun Sen described their journey as “historic” and thanked Thailand for its efforts “to reconnect Cambodia and Thailand”.

The rail link will also serve as a connection between Laos and its Southeast Asian neighbours, Hun Sen said.

Bilateral trade between Thailand and Cambodia currently stands at $6 billion.

THE NATION (THAILAND)/ANN

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