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The Asian Panama Canal
Kra Canal

Countdown to resurrection

View Samples AseanAffairs Magazine
May - June 2009

After more than three centuries in the works, Southeast Asia’s mother of all mega projects remains dormant. Signs have emerged pointing to the reactivation of the multi-billion dollar project, sooner than expected.

COVER STORY 

The Saga of Kra Canal
Reviving the mother of all mega projects
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It was a rare incident indeed. In the 41-year history of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), Thailand went on record as the first ever host nation to cancel an international summit. The much-anticipated gathering of top leaders from the ten-nation Asean and its six trade partners fell apart under the full glare of the global media.

Hooting horns and yelling slogans, anti-government protesters in crimson T-shirts streamed into the building and through the media centre, astonishing dozens of journalists as they rampaged towards an adjacent building where leaders were holding a luncheon.
Hotel staff quickly cleared the restaurants and hustled bikini-clad tourists out of the pool as the protesters staged a sit-in rally at the heart of the summit, blocked by security forces with flak jackets and shotguns.

However, a group of foreign diplomats’ wives nonchalantly finished their sushi lunch.

Luggage was strewn all over the lobby of the Royal Cliff Beach Resort, as delegates checked out en masse.

"We have to pull out now," said the aide of one Southeast Asian leader, barking orders from a hand-held radio as his 50-member delegation prepared to travel to the nearby airbase.

"Thailand should not have allowed this to happen. How could they have allowed the protesters to go this far? They should have blocked them before they reached here,"
Meanwhile, foreign leaders were being plucked by helicopter from the roof of their luxury hotel in the seaside resort of Pattaya. They were transported to a nearby military airbase where Abhisit Vejjajiva, the red-faced Thai premier, made his apologies before their hasty departure.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was not among them as his plane was forced to divert mid-flight en route to the summit.

It was an embarrassing moment for Asean as crucial meetings between its leaders and key regional partners on the global economic crisis were abandoned. The signing of an investment agreement between Asean and China was scuttled, and so were discussions on a regional currency swap fund to help Asian economies.
The summits, carrying the theme "Acting Together to Cope with Global Challenges", were to have held significance in Asean's relations with its dialogue partners besides giving the opportunity for all the countries to discuss current issues of regional and international concern. 

On the other hand, the chaotic summit provided a close view of the long-standing political division in Thailand. The Pattaya fiasco prompted the reluctant Thai premier to declare state of emergency there to ensure safe passage home for the visiting dignitaries, and later in Bangkok, to put an end to the anti-government protests that turned violent.

The Thai capital was a scene of riots as security forces chased away the red-clad mobs blocking key intersections, throwing molotov cocktails and burning public buses on April 13, the start of an annual Songkran (traditional new year) holidays. The rampages came to an end the following day after the rally site near the government house was cleared, some protesters leaders detained and protesters sent home.

A week later, Thai government it would reschedule the summit in Phuket, a seaside tourist spot in the south. Asean chief Surin Pitsuwan has said the summit would take place no later than early June. Read the Complete Article Subscribe to ASEANAFFAIRS Magazine

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