BANGKOK -- Efforts to build a modern cross-border transportation network are underway in Southeast Asia, where regional economic integration is scheduled by the end of 2015.
These projects are attracting Japanese companies seeking to contribute technologies.
Sumitomo Mitsui Construction is building an enormous bridge over the Mekong River in Cambodia. Once completed, the Neak Loeung Bridge would provide the first-ever land connections between Ho Chi Minh City, Phnom Penh and Bangkok.
The bridge, which will have a main span of 640 meters, is being funded with about 8.5 billion yen ($81.1 million) in development aid from the Japanese government. The surrounding area had more than 4,000 unexploded pieces of ordnance buried from the civil war years. Overcoming such obstacles took four years, and the bridge is finally expected to be completed next March.
This bridge will form part of the Southern Economic Corridor, a transportation artery running across the Indochinese Peninsula. Currently, the only way to cross the river is by a ferry, whose lines are long during peak times. When the bridge opens, transporting goods between Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh will likely be shortened from some eight hours at present to less than six. Nighttime transportation will be possible as well.
The bridge will also give a boost to the division of labor for sewing apparel in Vietnam and Cambodia. The horizontal division of labor for precision machinery and automobile production, which includes Thailand, is also expected to expand in the future.
"The economic effect to be generated by the establishment of the bridge is incalculable," a Sumitomo Mitsui Construction executive overseeing its construction says.
Infrastructure is essential to economic integration for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and this requires a vast range of funds and technology, Myanmar President Thein Sein said at an Asean economic ministers' meeting Monday in his nation's capital of Naypyitaw.
Data shows poor infrastructure for the Asean region. There are 10km of roads and 250 meters of railroad per 1,000 people in the region, according to the Asian Development Bank -- both just a twentieth of the figures in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Steady economic growth requires investment of $60 billion a year.
Myanmar has floated plans to build a large port in Dawei and link it with the Thai border via a highway. The two governments plan to select developers this October at the earliest.
The East-West Economic Corridor is also getting improved roads. To accommodate increasing cross-border trade between Thailand and Myanmar, work to build a second friendship bridge at a cost of around 10 billion yen is scheduled to begin early next year.
All aboard the Singapore-Malaysia bullet train
For north-south travel in the region, high-speed railroads are planned.
A project in Singapore and Malaysia would connect the 350km between the city-state and Kuala Lumpur in 90 minutes, costing 40 billion ringgit ($12.7 billion). Aiming for an opening around 2020, the two countries plan to hold bidding next year.
JR East has opened an information-gathering office in Singapore. In mid-August, a delegation of business leaders from the Japanese railway company and Hitachi accompanied Japanese Transport Minister Akihiro Ota on his visit to Malaysia, promoting a shinkansen bullet train system.
Thailand has floated an idea for two high-speed railroads stretching from a waterfront industrial area in the east to the north. It is possible that this will connect to the high-speed railway planned by Laos and then eventually reach China.
Nikkei staff writers Wataru Yoshida in Singapore, Manabu Ito in Hanoi and Motokazu Matsui in Naypyitaw contributed to this article.