Suu Kyi, Prayut Open 2nd Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge

By Nan Lwin 19 March 2019

YANGON—Speaking at the opening ceremony of the 2nd Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge on the Kayin State-Thai border, State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said Myanmar is ready to work with Thailand for the mutual benefit of both peoples and described Thailand as having been a good neighbor since diplomatic relations began.

On Tuesday, the State Counselor and Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha opened a new bridge linking Mae Sot district in Thailand’s Tak province with Myanmar’s border city of Myawaddy. A second Mae Sot Boundary Post was also opened alongside the bridge.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said the bridge would promote cross-border trade, investment, tourism and cultural exchange.

Bilateral trade between Myanmar and Thailand stood at US$5 billion (7.7 trillion kyats) in fiscal 2017-2018, $4.3 billion in 2016-17, $4.8 billion in 2015-16, $5.7 billion in 2014-15, $5.6 billion in 2013-14, $4.7 billion in 2012-13, and $4.5 billion in 2011-12, according to the Ministry of Commerce. Thailand is Myanmar’s third-biggest source of foreign investment.

“The bridge is the result of working together to benefit both sides,” the State Counselor said.

Officials from both sides began survey work for the project in May 2012, and a groundbreaking ceremony was held in August 2015. Construction of the 3.9-billion-Thai-baht (190 billion kyats), 270-meter-long bridge took four years.

The bridge lies on the East-West Economic Corridor, part of the Mekong-Japan cooperation scheme, Tokyo’s grand infrastructure plan for the region. Within this plan, Myanmar sits on two major economic corridors: the East-West Economic Corridor connecting Vietnam’s Dong Ha City with Yangon’s Thilawa Special Economic Zone (SEZ) via Cambodia and Thailand, and the Southern Economic Corridor connecting central Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand to the Dawei SEZ in southeastern Myanmar.

The plan aims to improve connectivity between Bangkok and Yangon along the East-West Corridor. The corridor will help businesses based in Bangkok extend their supply chains to Yangon (at the Thilawa SEZ). The Myanmar section of the East-West Corridor does not yet function as an international highway due to bottlenecks such as one-way stretches, a lack of paved roads, traffic difficulties in the rainy season and weight limitations.

According to the Japan International Cooperation Agency, Tokyo plans to shorten transport time by constructing three bridges in Karen and Mon states—the Gyaing-Kawkareik Bridge, the Gyaing-Zathabyin Bridge and the Atran Bridge—as part of the East-West Economic Corridor. These are expected to reduce the time needed to transport goods the 870 km from Thilawa to Bangkok to one-and-a-half days.

“I believe the [2nd Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge] will become a part of the Greater Mekong economic corridor. I also believe that it will [help] connect Southeast Asian countries along the East-West Economic Corridor,” Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said.

Modern Thai-Myanmar diplomatic relations were established in 1948. To mark the 70th anniversary of ties last year, the two sides agreed to enhance their “natural strategic partnership”, particularly on border development and seamless connectivity, two areas deemed crucial for the prosperity of people living near the border on both sides.

At the end of her speech, the State Counselor stressed that, “We have seen our relations improve in recent years. I would like to offer reassurances that [we] will work together with Thailand [for the benefit of both peoples],” she said.