The economic growth of China and shifting of US foreign policy towards Asia has raised the prospect of a new 'Silk Road' boosting trade in the region.
More than 2,000 years ago, the so-called Silk Road linked Ancient China to Ancient Rome, spreading cultural, religious and political exchange throughout Asia, the Middle East and Europe.
While the original route's importance to global trade gradually dwindled, the importance of Asian markets has seen it re-emerge.
John Pang, CEO of the CIMB ASEAN Research Institute, says while the original route was used to transport mainly silk, the new route is different - but no less significant.
"Now there are routes being carved that dare very much driven by rail and oil and gas pipelines," he said.
"This in general will open up central Asia and then opportunities for trade will open up." It's mainly the private sector that is driving the new silk road development, although there is support from the governments of China, India and ASEAN.
Countries outside the region also have interest - the United States has announced its own silk road blueprint, what it calls "The New Silk Road Strategy".
But Ben Simpfendorfer, Managing Director of Silk Road Associates, says he's doubtful the US strategy, focused around Afghanistan, will work.
"The US is certainly less influential then it has been - it's no longer the dominant trade partner for most countries in the region which is a sharp change of events over the last few decades - at the end of the day commerce does matter," he said.
"The US would really like to remain a power within the region, and it clearly recognises that China's growing commercial might is a direct challenge to its own interests." Critics say Washington will need to accept the influential role countries like Iran and Pakistan will inevitably need to play.
Ben Simpfendorfer says the geography of any trade route linking China and the Middle East would have to pass through Iran.
Vali Nasr from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies says with US and other foreign troops leaving, security in Afghanistan - or a lack of it - also threatens the US strategy.
"It hasn't gone away and will not go away," he said.
"The future stability of Afghanistan as a transportation and energy corridor is open to question.
"The other big question marks here are Iran and Pakistan, there's a whole different set of security dynamics, the nuclear issue with Iran and the collapse of relations between the US and Pakistan."