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Highways coming through Golden Tria

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)

Newsgroups: bit.listserv.seasia-l
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                                  
DATELINE: BANGKOK                                                               
    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                                                    
LANGUAGE: ENGLISH                                                               
LOAD-DATE-MDC: January 3, 1994