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22 Nov 2021

Zsombor Peter, Voice of America

Thailand: Rights groups oppose Yuam River water project as Chinese state-owned Norinco shows interest

"Thai Water Project Clears Major Hurdle After China Shows Interest" 24 October 2021

Thailand is moving forward on a controversial and long-pondered water diversion project after the plan drew interest from a major Chinese firm, a move that could give Beijing a new outpost for its sweeping Belt and Road Initiative.

Under the leadership of Thailand’s powerful Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, the country’s National Environment Board in September approved a crucial environmental impact assessment for the Yuam River water diversion project.

The board had rejected assessments for the project twice before, most recently in December 2019. September’s about-face came weeks after local news reports that an unnamed Chinese firm was offering to build the project for just over half the estimated $2.1 billion price tag at its own expense and in only four years instead of the projected seven. [...]

In an interview with VOA, Veerakorn confirmed that a Chinese firm had sent him the offer. He also identified the company as state-owned Norinco International, a civil engineering subsidiary of Chinese arms maker Norinco Group with listed projects across Asia, Africa and the Middle East.


'Adverse impacts'

Rights groups in Thailand are opposing the project already, worried about the villages the new reservoir would displace and the stretches of protected forest the underground pipeline would uproot.

“The project will have adverse impacts on Karen indigenous peoples living in the impacted areas but who [have] not been meaningfully consulted. There will be impacts on watershed areas, agricultural lands and access to natural resources,” said Pianporn Deetes, Thailand campaign coordinator for International Rivers, which advocates for sustainable water resource management.

She said the assessment the National Environment Board just approved was “deeply flawed” for misrepresenting and overstating the opening rural communities and nongovernment groups were given to vent their views.

Veerakorn, the National Assembly member, insisted repeatedly that the project would be opened up for international bidding, possibly by year’s end, and that the best offer would prevail.

Pianporn said the lawmaker’s lobbying for Norinco was tipping the scales. [...]