CHINA - Working together on high-speed trains may be the next step up for Sino-Thai relations as the topic takes on importance in discussions between Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Thailand Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
Li and Yingluck were visiting a Chinese high-speed railway exhibition on Saturday at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center in Bangkok during the Chinese premier's official visit to Thailand, the second leg of his first trip to Southeast Asia since taking office in March.
At the exhibition, Li told Yingluck China's high-speed train technologies are "advanced, safe, reliable and economically competitive". He said he hoped the two countries can enhance their cooperation in the railway sector.
The exhibition highlights the development and achievements of China's continuing effort to build a nationwide high-speed rail network. It also features Chinese engineers' blueprints and research results for the 680-km Bangkok-Chiang Mai and 450-km Bangkok-Nong Khai rail lines.
The studies indicate that if Thailand is to adopt Chinese technology to build the Bangkok-Chiang Mai line, travel time will be significantly cut, from the current 12 hours to just three hours.
According to Thailand's transport planners, four major high-speed railways will be built to link the capital Bangkok to Chiang Mai, Nong Khai, Rayong and Hua Hin.
Thai media had earlier reported that transport authorities in Thailand have commissioned railway companies from China and Japan to conduct feasibility studies on the four lines, with the Chinese concentrating research on the Chiang Mai and Nong Khai connections.
"We can enhance the understanding of advanced Chinese high-speed train technology through this kind of exhibition. This is a very good opportunity for the Thai people to deepen their understanding of the technology the Chinese possess," said Wiboon Khusakul, the Thai Ambassador to China, in Bangkok.
His remarks were echoed by Chamroon Tangpaisalkit, an executive from SRT Electrified Train, a subsidiary of the State Railway of Thailand.
"I have taken the high-speed train from Beijing to Tianjin. It's fast and punctual, and I think it's one of the most modernized rail systems in China," he said, adding the construction of high-speed railways in Thailand will inject momentum to Thailand's development.
"Such projects will produce economic as well as social impacts, and enable people from our two countries to cooperate well. It also can bring us closer together in fields like communications, agriculture, tourism and trade."
In an article published in the Thai newspaper Matichon on Friday, Premier Li said rail cooperation would become a new highlight in bilateral relations between Thailand and China.
"China has gained rich experience and credentials in high-speed railway construction. We are ready to take an active part in high-speed rail development in Thailand, as this will facilitate the movement of goods and personnel in the region and enhance Thailand's role as a regional transport hub," the premier wrote.
For her part, Yingluck said at a joint news conference on Friday that Thailand welcomes Chinese participation in the construction of its high-speed railway system.
China Railway Corp, the successor of the dissolved Ministry of Railways, is sparing no effort in tapping into Thailand's rail sector - regarded as a lucrative potential market after the Yingluck administration announced its ambitious 2.2-trillion-baht (S$87 billion) infrastructure improvement programme early this year.
"Prime Minister Yingluck and officials from the State Railway of Thailand are very interested in our high-speed railway technologies. And we hope this exhibition could better facilitate the two countries' collaboration in the rail sector," China Railway Corp's deputy general manager Lu Chunfang said.
China and Thailand have agreed to jointly establish a high-speed railway research centre in Qingdao, in East China's Shandong province.
China has the advantages in technology and costs in railway construction. And it boasts a good record in completing rail projects on time, said Gao Wenkuan, economic and commercial counselor with the Chinese embassy in Thailand.
Gao added both countries share a strong aspiration to cooperate in the railway sector.
Former Thai prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was quoted by Xinhua News Agency in an earlier report as saying: "There are plenty of opportunities for everyone to invest in Thailand. But for the rail system, it is obvious that China is ahead of others since it has proven its capabilities in recent years."
Before arriving in Bangkok on Friday, Premier Li had just wrapped up a tightly scheduled tour in Brunei, where he also attended a series of meetings with East Asian leaders.