Thailand, Malaysia Mull New High-Speed Rail Link

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Thailand, Malaysia Mull New High-Speed Rail Link

Both sides focus on advancing prosperity amid lingering border woes.

Thailand, Malaysia Mull New High-Speed Rail Link
Credit: Flickr/Shenil Leong

Malaysia and Thailand have agreed to begin preliminary studies on a high-speed rail (HSR) link between the two countries following consultations between both leaders.

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and his visiting Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak revealed at the 6th Malaysia-Thailand Annual Consultation in Bangkok that they had agreed for agencies in both countries to begin a preliminary exploration of a possible link.

Najib said the link, which would complement the one currently being undertaken by Malaysia and Singapore, would help boost connectivity and people-to-people relations.

The initiative is one of a string of measures both sides explored to help turn their common border into a greater source of prosperity. The two governments also discussed expediting construction of bridges and road links as well as upgrading customs infrastructure to facilitate border trade. They also explored additional ideas to increase their bilateral trade, now at around $21 billion, to $30 billion by 2018, including using land routes for rice imports and collaborating for joint tourism promotions.

Managing the Malaysia-Thailand border has long been a challenge for both sides, with a range of challenges including human trafficking, transnational crime, and violent extremism as evidenced by the raging insurgency in southern Thailand which has left over 6,000 dead since 2004 (See: “Malaysia-Thailand Meeting: Border Woes Expected to Dominate”).

A series of bombings and arson attacks aimed at tourist hotspots in the country’s south last month has once again focused attention on the insurgency, which has in fact been waxing and waning for decades (See: “More Than Words Needed on Southern Thailand“). As expected, the recent round of peace talks last week facilitated by Malaysia between the Thai government and MARA Pattani – an umbrella body representing several groups linked to separatists in southern Thailand – saw no significant progress, with Prayut emphasizing that both sides were still in the stage of “trying to understand each other” (See: “Southern Thailand Peace Talks to Resume (Again) in Malaysia“). Several rounds of such talks have occurred before to no avail, and the most recent one was stalled following disagreements between the two sides earlier this year.

Colonel Yutthanam Petchmuang, spokesman for Thailand’s Internal Security Operations Command, told reporters following the bilateral meeting that the two countries had frank discussions on these border woes, including the Southern Thailand insurgency.

However, he stressed that the idea of building a wall at the Thai-Malaysian border was “still at its primitive stage.” Earlier reports had suggested that both sides may look to ink an agreement on the construction of a border fence, which would help stem violence and transnational crime.

“Nothing is confirmed yet in terms of logistics. Both leaders shared the idea when they were at the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit in Vientiane,” he said, according to Global Times.