Reconnecting Asia tracks infrastructure developments across Eurasia, a vast landmass that includes 60 percent of the global economy. Every day, new projects are announced; some advance, while others encounter obstacles. Here is a selection of projects and trends we will be following in 2019.
The Kerch Strait Bridge connects the annexed territory of Crimea in Ukraine, where Russia has maintained de facto control since 2014, with Krasnador Krai on the Russian mainland. Notable for being Russia's only direct route to Crimea, this bridge became the center of a major controversy in November 2018 when the Russian coast guard fired on Ukrainian vessels attempting to cross from the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov. At the epicenter of the ongoing conflict over Russia's annexation of Crimea, this bridge will be a project to watch in the year ahead.
The Peljesac bridge will provide a physical connection between Croatia's Peljesac peninsula and the country's mainland coast. The new link will allow travelers to circumnavigate the thin strip of Bosnia and Herzegovina that currently provides the only overland connection. Funded by the EU, the project has generated some controversy in Bosnia, an aspiring EU-member country, because many Bosnians view the bridge as a violation of sovereignty.
In November 2018, a train crossed over the South Korean border into North Korea for the first time in more than a decade. The trip was part of a broader inter-Korean cooperation effort that aspires to re-connect the peninsula's railway systems, integrating both countries into a rail network that spans the continent. Given the significant modernization efforts that would be required to bring North Korea's decrepit railway system up to international standards, the Seoul - Pyongyang rail project will be an important bellwether for this ambitious goal.
A 4.5 kilometer-long road designed to lighten traffic in Hong Kong, this project is expected to finish next year after nearly a decade of construction, during which several delays and cost increases have driven the price tag to more than $1 billion over the original budget. Some environmentalists have condemned project construction over the reclamation of more than 30 acres of Victoria Harbour.
The East Coast Rail link is a 688-kilometer rail project in Malaysia intended to link the country's eastern seaboard with the Port of Klang in the west. The project was postponed in August 2018 after the election of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who voiced concerns over the total cost of the project, which ranged in estimates from $16 to $20 billion. The news came as a relief to some conservationists who worried about the potential for deforestation, erosion, and pollution caused by the rail link and related developments.
This $2 billion coal-fired plant outside of Bangladesh’s third-largest city, Khulna, is being jointly developed by India and Bangladesh through the Bangladesh India Friendship Power Company. Although it is not slated for completion until late-2019, it has already been at the center of several controversies. Concerns have been raised by environmental groups about the potential destruction of the world's largest mangrove forests, the Sundarbans, in addition to the possible displacement of local inhabitants residing in the area.
One of the largest out of nearly 2,700 hydro power projects (HPPs) proposed throughout the Balkans as of May 2018, Moglice is one of two dams that make up the 256-Megawatt Devoll HPP in Albania. The project is slated to begin operating in 2019. While proponents of HPPs view them as reliable sources of renewable energy, environmentalists worry that so many dams in the Balkans could irreparably damage local ecosystems and displace communities.
A Little Friendly Competition
The Amur River Rail Bridge will connect Russia’s Far East and China’s Northeast provinces where both national governments have expressed a desire to ramp up regional development. Facing downward economic pressure, successful connections could boost cross-border trade and upgrade dangerous transportation methods such as sledges that are frequently used during winter. However, doubts remain about China and Russia's ability to turn rhetoric into substantive cooperation given their asymmetrical economies and demographic makeups, as well as their history of mutual suspicion. The project should finish construction in 2019, providing additional insight into the future of cooperation between the two great powers.
Although China and Myanmar conducted negotiations in 2018 to scale down the cost of this Myanmar port from $7.2 billion to $1.3 billion, the strategic location of the project in the Indian Ocean still makes it a point of concern for many in the region. Some worry that China could leverage the location of the port for military use or its price tag for economic leverage over Myanmar's government.
Map Ta Phut Industrial Port is one of five megaprojects planned for Thailand's Eastern Economic Corridor. This project has attracted a number of local and international bidders hoping to win the contract to work on the $1.7 billion port. The competition includes prominent companies from both Japan and China, highlighting some of the intense commercial competition between regional economic powerhouses that is being spurred by Southeast Asia's infrastructure push.
This $6.9 billion high-speed rail project will connect three of Thailand's major international airports, constituting one of the largest single infrastructure projects in the country's history. The project was originally intended to be the centerpiece of an effort by China and Japan to improve relations through infrastructure cooperation abroad. Those hopes were dashed by the withdrawal of the Japanese companies expected to join the corporate consortia bidding on the project. Thailand expects to select a winning bidder in January 2019.
To Debt or Not to Debt
Since joining the China's Belt and Road Initiative in 2017, Nepal has ramped up negotiations with Beijing for infrastructure investment. In June 2018, Nepal's prime minister, K. P. Sharma Oli, met Chinese president Xi Jinping in Beijing to discuss areas for cooperation, including the China-Nepal railway which would link Kathmandu with Tibet through the Himalayas. The project could help Nepal become a major trade hub between India and China, but project spending could be significant, reaching nearly a third of Nepal's GDP at a total cost of around $8 billion.
Initially hailed as a signature policy achievement of Joko Widodo’s presidency, construction of this rail line has suffered major delays and rising costs largely due to difficulties in land acquisition. With Indonesia’s general election scheduled for April 2019, the opposition vice presidential candidate Sandiaga Uno has said that his party will review the China-led project to ensure that it has the right structure and creates jobs for Indonesian citizens. The rail line is expected to become operational in mid-2021.
The 1,800-kilometer Karachi-Peshawar Rail, also known as Main Line 1 or ML1, is a major component of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. China has recently agreed to help Pakistan upgrade the link for an estimated $8 billion. However, there is concern that the large price tag could sink Pakistan further into debt, particularly after the government failed to secure a bailout from the International Monetary Fund in the face of a rising balance of payments crisis.
The Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High-Speed Rail Project was designed to connect the capital cities of Malaysia and Singapore, but in June 2018, the newly-elected prime minister of Malaysia announced his intent to cancel the project due to its high cost. The current status of the project is officially postponed, but negotiations remain ongoing.
Where None Have Gone Before
This line connects Dali in China's Yunnan Province to Ruili on the China-Myanmar border. The railway will contain the largest arch bridge in the world once it is completed in 2019. This high-speed rail may eventually become a part of the Pan-Asia Railway Network China has been planning since as early as the 1990s.
The Mochovce Nuclear Power Plant is one of only three nuclear power facilities currently under construction in Europe and it is the largest ever private investment in Slovakia. Construction on units three and four of the plant started in 1987 and are still ongoing, with a total cost surpassing $6.3 billion. Slovenske Elektrarne, the utility responsible for the project, expects to complete unit three in late 2019.
The Japan-backed Mumbai-Ahmedabad rail link is India's first high-speed railway and has been touted as a prominent symbol of India's modernization and economic development as well as a hilight of Indo-Japanese cooperation. The trains are expected to run at 320 kilometers-per-hour and the route will include a 7-kilometer-long underwater tunnel, both firsts in a country with one of the longest railway networks in the world.
Solar energy was the fastest growing source of renewable energy last year, in part due to India's Pavagada Solar Park. Already the largest solar park in the world, its total capacity will rise to two GW when construction is completed next year.
My sincere thanks to Mark Akpaninyie, Zijia He, Ryan Hockstad, and Hanqing Ye for their assistance with research and data collection for this article.