Malaysia open to extending China-led rail project to Thai border

By Thomson Reuters Mar 28, 2024 | 12:25 AM

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysia’s government has said it would consider extending a $10 billion China-led rail project to its border with Thailand to boost economic ties between the Southeast Asian neighbours.

Part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, the 665-kilometre (413-mile), 50.27 billion ringgit ($10.63 billion) railway is on track to connect the east and west coasts of peninsular Malaysia by the end of 2026.

Malaysia’s Transport Minister Anthony Loke said on Wednesday the government was open to proposals to extend the track to the border with Thailand, for further integration into existing railway networks or future infrastructure developments. He did not provide further details.

“When the connectivity of railway tracks between Malaysia and Thailand can be modernised and improved, the movement of cargo and passengers between the two countries will become faster, thus stimulating economic growth,” Loke told Malaysia’s Senate.

A spokesperson for Thailand’s transport ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The original rail link was first proposed in 2017 and is being constructed by the Malaysian unit of China Communications Construction Co Ltd. It was 60% complete as of March, according to Bernama state news agency.

Thailand also has plans to invest in a massive land bridge project in the country’s south to boost growth and global trade. The bridge would bypass the congested Strait of Malacca, a narrow sea lane between Malaysia and Indonesia.

“Rather than a zero-sum game of competition, (Malaysia’s) ministry of transport is confident that Malaysia and Thailand can explore closer cooperation in the areas of transport and national development for long-term mutual benefit,” Loke said.

($1 = 4.7300 ringgit)

($1 = 36.3900 baht)

(Reporting by Danial Azhar and Panu Wongcha-um in Bangkok; Editing by Kanupriya Kapoor)