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Highways coming through Golden Tria
- Subject: Highways coming through Golden Tria
- From: strider@xxxxxxxxxxx
- Date: Mon, 17 Jan 1994 06:56:00
Subject: Highways coming through Golden Tria
/* Written 2:54 pm Jan 14, 1994 by tun@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx in igc:reg.seasia */
/* ---------- "Highways coming through Golden Tria" ---------- */
Subject: Highways coming through Golden Triangle (fwd)
Subject: Highways coming through
Organization: Indiana University, Research Center for Language and Semiotic Studies
Date: Sun, 9 Jan 1994 19:08:35 GMT
Copyright 1994 Toronto Star Newspapers, Ltd.
The Toronto Star
January 2, 1994, Sunday, FINAL EDITION
SECTION: CONTEXT; Pg. E8
LENGTH: 1324 words
HEADLINE: Superhighways to link nations of Southeast Asia But critics fear some
will merely become polluted pit stops
BYLINE: BY RICHARD EHRLICH SPECIAL TO THE STAR
YOU CAN'T get there from here.
But one day, Asia will have new highways linking China, Vietnam, Laos,
Thailand and Myanmar across gorgeous mountains and rugged jungles. They're part
of a bold plan to boost trade, expand tourism and exploit vast natural
That is exactly what worries some critics.
They fear the new highways will also turn isolated countries like Laos and
Myanmar into polluted, deforested zones resembling nothing more than roadside
pit stops on busy highways going north from gleaming Singapore all the way to
China's sprawling capital, Beijing.
Truckers would increase the already uncontrolled demand for prostitutes and
spread AIDS from the ubiquitous red-light districts of Thailand and elsewhere.
Along one stretch from the northernmost tip of Thailand further north through
Myanmar (which is still called Burma by its citizens) toward China, the
coup-installed military junta is already forcing chained prisoners to break
rocks and smooth the way - under the watchful eyes of armed Myanmari guards.
This route goes from Thailand's border town, Mae Sai, up to the capital of
Myanmar's Shan state, Keng Tung, before crossing into China's southern Yunnan
Asian government officials, big businesses, tour operators and others,
however, shrug off the critics' complaints, saying the region needs to integrate
its highways if it is to compete with the rest of the world in the 21st century.
China is delighted: Beijing would get a direct southern route through Laos
to the Gulf of Thailand and beyond.
This means China would not have to rely only on its clogged, eastern ports of
Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong. It could instead move goods via Thailand's
port at Bangkok to regions further south or to the West - such as the Indian
subcontinent or Africa.
Vietnam would benefit in a similar way by not having only its east coast
ports of Haiphong, Danang and Ho Chi Minh City as its best international access
routes. Goods could roll overland west across Laos, and then also through
Myanmar already has its own southern port in its capital of Yangon, but its
untapped north would be integrated by roads with the other countries involved,
facilitating trade and modernization.
This would help Myanmar open its mountainous section of the notorious Golden
Triangle region, where feuding opium warlords and ethnic guerrillas split
northern Myanmar into personal fiefdoms.
Sleepy Laos, which is struggling to abandon the Communist path it took
after U.S. troops withdrew in 1975 at the end of the Vietnam War, would probably
undergo the biggest changes.
Today, the tiny, mountainous, under-populated nation is largely ignored by
its neighbors. Its 4.4 million people rank among the world's poorest.
Laos is so impoverished its foreign earnings are mostly from exporting
garments and hydroelectric power to Thailand, and the sale of overflight rights
to international airlines zipping across the Laotian sky on journeys elsewhere.
When the highways criss- cross its landlocked territory, the resulting
international trade will bring vast wealth in the form of import and export
taxes, service sector jobs, and other spinoffs.
Thailand's already booming economy hopes to blossom further when it can show
off its new access routes, which would enable Thai manufactured goods and raw
materials to be sent east across Laos to Vietnam for quick international
export, or through Laos north to China.
The Thai government's enthusiastic Board of Investment has already issued a
map of Thailand showing the nation divided into five dynamic sections.
The newest spin is on Thailand's neglected northeast, which has traditionally
trailed behind because it is wedged against Laos and thus had only a
southwestern route to Bangkok as its international access.
With new highways east to Vietnam and north to China, however, the northeast
is "set to become a centre of labor-intensive manufacturing, especially in
metal-working and engineering activities," the Board of Investment says.
Thailand's north - famed for its tourist sites of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai -
is already becoming "an ideal site for higher tech manufacturing such as
electronics. Tourism and high value- added agriculture are also targeted to
develop," the board adds.
Overcrowded, smoggy Bangkok hopes the highways and a slew of new tax benefits
will "spur decentralization" and has offered bonuses to "factories relocating
away from Bangkok."
But the finance-savvy head of research at the multi-billion-dollar CP Group
of businesses in Thailand, Suchart Thadadomrongvej, warned his government must
immediately turn vast areas of northern Thailand into Special Economic Zones
offering generous tax exemptions to compete with China's already booming special
"Otherwise, we will gain nothing from participating in the quadrangle," which
would group Thailand, Laos, Myanmar and China, he said.
"Worse, cheap labor from China or Vietnam can come down the new roads being
planned and compete with Thai labor," Suchart added.
These new Asian highways will be given their first real boost upon completion
of the Mekong River bridge which will provide, for the first time, a land
crossing between Thailand and Laos.
The partially constructed, Australian-funded "Friendship Bridge" is expected
to be finished in April and would link the northern Thai town of Nong Khai with
the Laotian capital, Vientiane.
Tourism will immediately increase, according to tour operators who are
touting Laos as an exotic, unspoiled land of beautiful mountains, gentle
people and unique temples and architecture.
"As a landlocked country surrounded by an economic boom, we cannot stand
still," agreed Nokham Ratanavong, director of the Laotian foreign trade
Thai international corporate lawyer and real estate developer Noppun
Muangkote predicted: "Developing Laos is going to be a lot easier than
Thailand. There are fewer people and more resources.
"And it is 'green' - many mistakes have already been avoided and you are
starting fresh. The people know nothing and are easy to train."
The bridge is only the start of upgrading a dilapidated land route which runs
further north through Laos to China. Much of the road is currently dirt or
gaping potholes, making overland travel dangerous and extremely slow.
A second route across Laos' east-west, 240-kilometre, all-season Route 9
goes from Savannakhet, Laos' second-largest city, to the central Vietnamese
city of Quang Tri before heading on to Hue and the U.S.-built port of Danang.
Rumors abound that a Route 9 bridge will be built across the Mekong River
linking the Thai border town of Mukdahan with Savannakhet.
Another hoped-for highway would be across Laos on nearby, parallel Route 12
and travel across Laos into Vietnam. Route 12, however, would require much
more money to upgrade because it is in extreme disrepair.
Rumors that a Route 12 bridge will cross the Mekong at Nakhon Phanom to touch
the Laotian town of Khammuane have caused nearby Thai land prices to double,
according the Nakhon Phanom's mayor, Pisit Pitibatr.
Officials in the region have also planned a "Visit Nakhon Phanom-Khammuane
Year 1994" to attract international investors and import-export traders.
A third highway in Laos would run mostly north-south up Laos' spine along
the Thai border enabling other towns to feed on to Route 9 or else head further
north to Vientiane.
Thai deputy transport and communications minister Charas Puachuay favors
numerous road projects linking Thailand with its neighbors and has visited
Laos, Vietnam and China to speed developments.
All these projects require hundreds of millions of dollars and international
expertise and equipment. Governments in the region are now scrambling to find
foreign investors, international bank loans and other ways to get the vehicles
GRAPHIC: map: southeast Asia
LOAD-DATE-MDC: January 3, 1994