Friday, March 16, 2007

China's Go South Policy: Excellent Article on Economic Integration in Sub-Mekhong Region

With Bridge Across Mekong, China Seeks Trade Route to Gulf of Thailand

World Politics Watch

Graham Lees

CHIANG KHONG, Thailand -- In the sleepy village of Chiang Khong on the muddy-brown banks of the mighty Mekong river, the young men are excited by talk of a bridge to link Thailand with Laos on the other side. The older population of mostly farmers and small traders are less enthused; they have heard it before.

But this time, a bridge to open up a forgotten corner of empty, jungle-covered hills on the edge of the Golden Triangle -- notorious in faraway countries for its opium-producing poppy cultivation -- might really happen.

The nearest bridge across the Mekong is more than 500 kilometers to the south, providing a link between eastern Thailand and the Lao capital Vientiane.

But now the impetus for change is coming from China, which needs to develop its large and poor southwestern province of Yunnan, bordering Burma, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, and bigger than Laos and Cambodia combined.

The Chinese have already begun harnessing the Mekong, which links six countries of Indochina before it empties into the South China Sea below Ho Chi Minh City, better known to many as Saigon.

China has agreed to pay half the $33.2 million cost with Thailand to build a bridge to replace pontoon-like ferries that provide the only link across the river into the darkly forested land beyond. Previous proposals to build a bridge have fallen foul of political indifference in Bangkok and a suspicion of outsiders by the secretive communist dictatorship running Laos.


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