Right to proceed: Hun Sen issues strong and final word on Funan Techo Canal project

Right to proceed: Hun Sen issues strong and final word on Funan Techo Canal project

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Combo picture of Senate President Hun Sen and artist’s impression of the Funan Techo Canal project where a man-made waterway flows into a natural one. Ministry of Information

In a strong and final word on the matter, the former Prime Minister and current president of the Senate reaffirmed that the construction of the Funan Techo Canal will go ahead as planned despite what appears to be continual objections expressed by the Vietnamese government, adding that it is within the Kingdom’s sovereignty to erect the game-changing structure.

arlier this month, Mr Hun Sen brushed aside a report that the Funan Techo Canal megaproject will facilitate the Chinese navy near the Vietnamese border, saying that it serves strictly socio-economic purposes. The remark was in response to The Straits Times’ article, which stated that the $1.7 billion navigation canal linking the capital Phnom Penh’s port to the country’s coast has raised concerns in Vietnam about the larger Chinese military presence it could enable.

“Following a series of slanderous reports about the presence of Chinese troops at the Ream Naval base, they now fabricate a story about the Funan Techo Canal, which falsely mentions that the canal will further facilitate the Chinese navy near the Vietnamese border even when the canal is still under construction,” Mr Hun Sen wrote on his post.

“We call on you not to slander us in order to oppose China.

We also think of our national interests just as you do, and it does not mean that you’re more intelligent than us.”

On Friday, Mr Hun Sen raised the issue again while presiding over a gala dinner hosted by the Cambodian Oknha Association. He said he has to “clear the air” regarding the matter, as the project was first proposed and approved in the Council of Ministers while he was still serving as the Kingdom’s Premier.

Artist’s impression shows a portion of the Funan Techo Canal. Ministry of Information

“I will not allow anyone to burn my house to cook a single egg, whether it is an ally or an enemy,” he said metaphorically. “No matter which country you are in, I have to defend my nation.”

“First and foremost, why does Cambodia need Chinese troops? Second, Cambodia and Vietnam are good neighbours who cooperate in all areas. Third, China and Vietnam have good relations and are comprehensive strategic partners. Finally, why would Cambodia allow Chinese troops into the country if it violated the Constitution?” Mr Hun Sen added.

The Senate President meticulously refuted assertions made by various groups in interviews with foreign radio stations regarding the impact of excavating 180 km of land for the canal. He clarified that within the 180 km length of the Funan Techo Canal, over 100 km consist of existing waterways, with only short sections requiring new excavation. This underscores Cambodia’s efforts, which primarily focus on extending the pre-existing canal network.

He asked the Vietnamese government to respect the national interest of Cambodia and its people, which will be gained from the canal upon the completion of its construction.

However, Mr Hun Sen also announced that Cambodia is not more inferior than Vietnam, explaining that he would stand firm against negotiating with any other party regarding the construction of the Funan Techo Canal.

“Cambodia is not more inferior than Vietnam,” Mr Hun Sen said. “Hun Sen has never made a wrong decision in the past 47 years. Cambodia is not inferior to allowing Chinese troops to deploy on its territory, and Cambodia knows how to protect its interests; Vietnam does not need to care.”

On that occasion, Mr Hun Sen also said that he did not push people to hate Vietnamese people, but the Vietnamese side must do the same.

“Vietnam has built a lot of dams to protect their crops and these have an impact on Cambodia. I hope Vietnam will understand the construction of the Funan Techo Canal,” he said.

The former Prime Minister also said that Cambodia did not need to negotiate with Vietnam over the Funan Techo Canal. Vietnamese leaders should understand why he raised this issue in public as well.

He also issued a strong call to action, urging all Cambodian citizens to unite in defence of national interests. He emphasised the need to stand against those who oppose the national interests and for certain countries to cease opposing Cambodia’s Funan-Techo Canal project.

“Therefore, I would like to call upon you, Oknha, and those who have the resources; in case we cannot find capital from outside, we must unite to build this canal. Your support and contributions are crucial in this endeavour,” Mr Hun Sen said, underscoring the importance of collective effort in this national project.

“I stand with the Royal Government. I support the Royal Government, and I will mobilise those who have the resources to invest for profit. Rest assured, this canal will not only be a source of pride for our nation but also a profitable venture for the Cambodian people,” he added, reaffirming his dedication to the project and the welfare of the people.

In a past interview with Khmer Times, So Naro, Minister Delegate attached to the Prime Minister in charge of ASEAN affairs, said that Cambodia, technically speaking, is not responsible for asking for permission or consultation from any state or non-state party, just like other countries in the region construction projects on tributaries within their territories.

He dismissed all attacks on the Funan Techo Canal, adding that some of them are “ridiculous.” He also went on to call the project a “historic milestone” in the country’s effort to enhance its self-reliance.

“We are not having any negative thoughts about Vietnam; however, when we depend on others for our own survival, it means we are losing some part of our independence,” he explained. “That is why the Funan Techo Canal is not only a historic part of the country’s infrastructure but also a magnificent achievement in Cambodia’s international politics.”

Meanwhile, President of the Asian Vision Institute (AVI), Chheng Kimlong, commented that it has to be understood that all decisions on the construction of the Funan Techo Canal fall under Cambodia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

“The recent remarks made by Senate President Samdech Hun Sen reflect the strong commitment of Cambodia to building the Funan Techo Canal for the benefit of Cambodia,” he said.

“It is a historic project that will offer resiliency to Cambodia when it comes to managing the flow of goods in the Mekong Delta and ASEAN, particularly by lowering the cost of transport and the risk of disruption from unfortunate incidents such as natural disasters.”

Kimlong added that he believes the Vietnamese government should accept the explanations given by the Cambodian authorities and thus show trust in its neighbour and long-term ally “without extra doubt”.

“Cambodia and Vietnam should be working towards a mutual understanding to prevent the elevation of mistrust and any antagonistic movement,” he said. “As a scholar, I believe in sharing scientific findings and open discussion between the two nations to find common ground based on common interests and existing international laws.”

The Ministry of Public Works and Transport recently announced that the government is negotiating with Chinese development partners for completion of the formal agreements to begin construction of the canal to complete key terms and sign a concession agreement for the large-scale logistics project by June or July this year.

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