Cambodia will not negotiate over Funan Techo canal: Hun Sen

The former prime minister said he’s never made a wrong decision, including about the canal.
By RFA Staff
2024.04.29
Cambodia will not negotiate over Funan Techo canal: Hun Sen A boy looking for fish in a nearly dry canal in the Long Phu district in the southern Mekong Delta province of Soc Trang, March 8, 2016.
STR/AFP

Cambodia’s leader Hun Sen has said that his country would not negotiate with Vietnam over the planned Funan Techo canal, despite concerns about its environmental and geopolitical impacts.

A group of Vietnamese experts suggested last week that Hanoi should ask Phnom Penh to delay the project for further discussions.

Former prime minister Hun Sen, who is now the president of the Senate and still retains much power, told a business banquet that construction of the 180 km (112 mile) canal will go ahead as planned this year, emphasizing the project was of national interest.

The Funan Techo 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.

It will be developed by a Chinese company at a cost of US$1.7 billion and, when operational in 2028,  will help reduce Cambodia’s dependence on Vietnam’s sea ports for its international trade.

But the project has raised concerns in Vietnam where the rice-growing Mekong delta is vulnerable to sea water incursions if the Mekong’s flow is reduced. A series of dams on the river in China to the north has already raised fears about flows downstream. 

Some Vietnamese experts said the Cambodian canal could “reduce the flow of the river by up to 50%” in Vietnam’s delta, home to 17.4 million people.

Hun Sen dismissed the concern, saying any loss of water would affect Cambodia first.

No mistake in 47 years

The Funan Techo canal project was proposed and approved when Hun Sen was head of the government and analysts say it is being seen as one of his great legacies.

“Hun Sen has never made a wrong decision in the past 47 years,” the veteran leader, referring to himself, told a dinner hosted by the Cambodian Oknha Association. Oknha is a title bestowed on Cambodians who are committed to charity or generous with donations to the government.

Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge soldier who defected to fight alongside Vietnamese forces, and who first became prime minister in a government set up by Vietnam after it invaded Cambodia, said his country “is not inferior to Vietnam.”

“Cambodia knows how to protect its interests, Vietnam does not need to care,” the Senate president was quoted in Cambodian media as saying.

While calling for Vietnam’s understanding, Hun Sen said Cambodia’s eastern neighbor also “built a lot of dams to protect their crops and these have an impact on Cambodia.”

He said he was not pushing Cambodians to hate Vietnamese people and the Vietnamese side must do the same, the Khmer Times quoted him as saying.

FUNAN-TECHO-CANAL.jpg
Map of the proposed Funan Techo canal. (Cambodia National Mekong Committee)

Vietnamese analysts say the canal could also have security implications by allowing naval forces to operate on inland waterways near the Vietnamese border. Vietnam’s foreign ministry this month urged Cambodia to provide information and an impact assessment on the water resources and ecological balance of the delta region.

The U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh has also called for more information, saying that while the United States respects “Cambodia’s sovereignty in internal governance and development decisions,” the Cambodian people as well as people in neighboring countries “would benefit from transparency on any major undertaking with potential implications for regional water and agricultural sustainability.”

“We urge authorities to coordinate closely with the Mekong River Commission (MRC) to provide additional project details and to participate fully in any appropriate environmental impact studies to help the MRC and member countries fully understand, assess, and prepare for any possible impacts of the project,” an embassy spokesperson said last week.

Edited by Mike Firn.

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