Asia Minute: 45 Years Later, Thailand and Cambodia Linked by Rail

Apr 23, 2019

Credit Sourav Bapuli / CC BY-SA 4.0 / Wikimedia Commons

For the first time in nearly half a century, two neighboring Southeast Asian nations are connected by rail. The leaders of the two countries took a ceremonial ride together yesterday, but further progress in the relationship may be more complicated.

Thailand and Cambodia have a long and complicated history – going back to the 1200s. More recent history has been marked by regional wars of varying degrees, and border disputes. But now the two countries share roughly 6 billion dollars in annual trade with Thailand the far wealthier neighbor.

And as of this week, the two countries are connected by train tracks for the first time in 45 years — since they were ripped up in the destruction of Cambodia’s civil war. The long-delayed project is meant to eventually link the two national capitals: Bangkok and Phnom Penh.

On Monday, the prime ministers of the two governments shared a train ride across the border. They also share a legacy of military-dominated governments and suppression of political opposition.

Cambodia’s Hun Sen has ruled for more than three decades with relentless criticism from human rights groups. Thailand’s Prayuth Chan-ocha first took control of his country’s government by leading a military coup five years ago.

He maintained power in an election last month that international observers said was “not free and fair.”

For Thailand, this rail link is part of a much broader strategy linked to China’s massive infrastructure project known as the “Belt and Road Initiative.”