Japan,Thailand and Myanmar signed a memorandum of intent (MOI) on Saturday (July 3) for the joint development of the long-delayed Dawei project in southeastern Myanmar.
Representatives of the three nations signed the document on the sidelines of the Japan-Mekong Summit in Tokyo, as their leaders looked on.
Speaking later at a joint news conference, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha said the project will become a new distribution hub for the world.
"The cooperation between the three countries on Dawei will be the world's new economic gate linking the Pacific and the Indian Ocean. This will be major opportunity for Japan's private sectors with Thailand's support as manufacturing base, as a connecting point and as a product distribution centre to the region. With this, we reaffirm that Thailand will do its best to look after Japanese investment's best interests," said Prayuth.
If successful, road and rail routes could link Dawei to neighbours China, India and other parts of Southeast Asia, allowing cargo to bypass the narrow and congested Strait of Malacca to forge shorter trade routes from the Middle East and Africa to China and Japan.
For Japan, a better-connected Southeast Asia makes it easier to sell its products and knit together a vast network of suppliers to Japanese-owned factories and manufacturing plants, which include autos and electronic goods.
Abe added that Japan was looking forward to a return to a democratic Thailand.
"In order for further Japanese-Thai cooperation, we are looking forward to the democratic return of a stable political environment under your prime minister's passionate leadership," he said at the joint event.
Set to be Southeast Asia's largest industrial complex when complete, the project will begin with construction of a 138-km (86-mile) road from Dawei to Kanchanaburi province, 119 km northwest of Bangkok.
Plans for a Dawei Special Economic Zone complex envisage a 250-sq-km (100-sq-mile) deep-sea port, petrochemical and heavy industry hub on the Thai-Myanmar peninsula.
The project has been stalled for years. Delays were largely blamed on Italian Thai Development (ITD), which had failed to secure private investment and agree on a power source for the complex.
Thailand and Myanmar seized control of the strategically located complex from ITD, Thailand's biggest construction firm, in Nov. 2013.
Thailand's ruling junta pledged in October it would seek to advance the project.
The industrial zone could be a boon for firms relying on the transport of goods around the crowded Malacca Strait, the world's busiest shipping lane.