In 1995 officials began plotting a new rail network to link China to six south-east Asian countries and then to extend rail connections through various national lines all the way to Singapore, the southern tip of mainland southeast Asia.
The network is expected to strengthen economic ties by reducing transport costs and making travel more convenient.
A new trade agreement came into effect in January slashing tariffs on most goods exported between China and members of the Association of South East Asian Nations.
Currently the biggest gap is in Cambodia. Cambodia’s rail network collapsed over decades of war, neglect and vandalism. Phnom Penh, the capital, lacks a functioning train station. In the north-west, locals ride along the tracks on bamboo platforms balanced on wheels.
More than 650km of track is to be renovated, including a 48km section running west to Thailand that will then connect Cambodia onward to Malaysia and Singapore.
Financial Times reports the next project will be to fill the gap between the Cambodia-Singapore and Vietnam-China lines. Preliminary estimates put the cost at $600m-$700m.