Beijing is considering an ambitious plan to fund construction of a US$20bn canal across Thailand as part of a wide-ranging scheme to protect its oil supplies and other strategic interests, according to a leaked US government report. The Washington Times said the report, prepared for US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, also details Chinese moves to forge closer military ties with countries along sea lanes from the Middle East to the South China Sea. In what it calls a "string of pearls" strategy, the report said Beijing was actively involved in a new naval base under construction at the Pakistani port of Gwadar, naval bases in Burma, and supposedly strengthening military ties with Cambodia and Bangladesh. The Thai canal project would enable Chinese oil shipments from the Middle East to bypass the narrow Strait of Malacca, seen by Chinese strategists as a potentially vulnerable bottleneck.
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