Cambodian canal project to kick off on Hun Sen’s birthday

The construction of Funan Techo canal is set to start on Aug. 5 but questions remain over its feasibility.
By RFA Staff
Cambodian canal project to kick off on Hun Sen’s birthday Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Manet spoke at the launch ceremony of a multi-purpose port in Kampot province on June 6, 2024.
Facebook: Cambodian government

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Manet has announced that work on the Funan Techo canal project will begin on Aug. 5, his father Hun Sen’s birthday, with an official breaking of ground for the project, media reported.

The canal, proposed and approved when Hun Sen was head of the government, is increasingly portrayed in Cambodia as one of the veteran leader’s great legacies.

Hun Manet was quoted by the pro-government Fresh News as saying  that the canal was no longer a foreign invested project but was now primarily owned by Cambodian companies, with a  51% stake.

The main stakeholders are the Sihanoukville Autonomous Port and the Phnom Penh Autonomous Port, he said at an event at the Kampot port, adding that the canal would still be developed as a build-operate-transfer (BOT) project.

The prime minister did not mention China or a Chinese company in his speech, though the Cambodian government last October signed an agreement with the China Bridge and Road Corporation (CBRC) allowing it to develop the canal.

The 180-km (112 mile) canal, officially known as the Tonle Bassac Navigation Road and Logistics System Project, will connect the Cambodian coastal province of Kep on the Gulf of Thailand with the inland provinces of Kandal and Takeo and the capital Phnom Penh via a tributary of the Mekong River.

Map (2).jpg
Map of the proposed Funan Techo canal. (Cambodia National Mekong Committee)

It has caused a rift with neighboring Vietnam, which is worried about the  ecological impact on its rice-growing Mekong  delta, as well as the overall influence of China in the region. The delta is already at risk of encroaching seawater, partly due to lower flows of fresh water down the Mekong.

Questionable viability?

Hun Manet was quoted as saying that the canal would benefit the Cambodian people and not foreign interests. He called for unity and support for the project that would take four to six years to complete at a cost of US$1.7 billion.

An analyst told RFA that the project “appears to be on shaky financial grounds.”

“The ownership and financing details change on this project from month to month it seems,” said Brian Eyler, Southeast Asia program director at the Washington-based Stimson Center.

“First the project was to be financed by a Chinese entity and then built and owned for 40-50 years by CBRC. Now Khmer investors will pay for 51% and no construction company has been named by the prime minister,” Eyler said.

“It’s common though for projects to have a groundbreaking ceremony and then there is no further progress on the project for a long period,” the analyst said.  “I’m willing to bet the Funan Techo canal will be one of them.”

Experts also question the timing of the launch of construction as the project area sits in an active floodplain that is inundated during the monsoon season which generally runs from June to October, making it expensive and risky to dig a canal.

Edited by Mike Firn.


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