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To boost regional investment and cross-border trade in Southeast Asia, Gen. Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, a former Thai prime minister, is advocating a bold plan to cut a canal across the narrow part of southern Thailand between the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea.

Chavalit was in Tokyo from Thursday through Saturday — along with members of his New Aspiration Party, a leading opposition party — to solicit support in Japanese business circles for the project and for feasibility studies, as well as to exchange views on Asia’s financial turmoil.

“We had a very positive response from all the businesspeople, especially construction and business organizations,” Chavalit said in an interview with The Japan Times and other media outlets.

Chavalit said the project would be a “tool” to stimulate regional economies hit hard by the current financial turmoil and promote economic unity in Asia in the long run.

Advocates say the approximately 100-km-long Kra canal would help accommodate the annual 2 billion tons of maritime cargo that currently passes through the Malacca Strait, as well as get multinational companies involved to utilize local resources and build industrial and residential complexes, telecommunications infrastructure, petroleum refineries and petrochemical complexes.

More than $10 billion is needed to finance the canal, which would require 10 years to complete, according to Chavalit. Feasibility studies alone would cost some $2 million, he added.

However, if the canal siphons off roughly 30 percent of the current maritime traffic in the strait, that should be enough to fetch an annual profit of some $500 million, he said. “The principle is that financial aid should come from joint ventures from all the countries, and financial support will come as a joint stake from shipping companies that are going to use this in the near future,” he said.

Chavalit urges Japanese and other potential business partners to “think ahead” in investing in the canal, which he said would complement other projects for development of the Mekong basin and facilitate globalization via free trade.

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