The first phase of the long-delayed high-speed rail between Bangkok and southern China has finally been approved by Thailand’s military government.

The new rail link is part of a huge infrastructure plan, led by China, to build a high-speed rail network across the region, connecting the southern city of Kunming with Laos, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.

The “One Belt, One Road” project wants to revive the ancient Silk Road trading routes and will eventually link Asia with Europe.

The Thai segment of the plan had been held up by financing and protective labour regulations in the country.

However, last month the junta chief, Prayuth Chanocha used his absolute powers to clear the legal and technical hurdles standing in the way.

A spokesperson for the prime minister’s office, Kobsak Pootrakool, said:

The Cabinet has approved phase one of the high-speed railway … from Bangkok to Korat with 179bn baht ($5.2bn) budget for a four-year plan.

Phase one, which will run from Bangkok to the northeastern Thai province of Nakhon Ratchasima, also known as Korat, will be a total of 250km. At the moment, the journey can take anytime between four and six hours by train.

This is scheduled to be completed by 2021 and after this the line will be extended to Nong Khai, on the border with Laos. Construction has already begun in Laos.

Thailand is being billed for the construction costs but the majority of technical and design expertise is set to come from Chinese engineers, which has angered local firms that they will not be involved.

The deal will improve the infrastructure of Thailand, something its Junta government has been attempting to do.

It hopes that it will boost cross-border trade volume and turn the country into a regional hub.

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In addition, the deal brings China and Thailand closer together as China strengthens its influence across southeast Asia.

According to the South China Morning Post, the Thai Junta has been growing closer to Beijing since it gained power in 2014.

It has spent billions on Chinese arms and welcomes investment from the superpower.