Cambodian PM says country to build US$1.7b canal

Cambodian PM says country to build US$1.7b canal
Cambodian PM says country to build US$1.7b canal

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Cambodia will push forward with controversial plans to build a US$1.7 billion canal linking capital Phnom Penh to the sea, Prime Minister Hun Manet said today. — AFP pic

PHNOM PENH, April 11 — Cambodia will push forward with controversial plans to build a US$1.7 billion (RM8.1 billion) canal linking capital Phnom Penh to the sea, Prime Minister Hun Manet said today.

The Funan Techo canal is the latest Chinese-backed infrastructure project in Cambodia, which received billions in investments as one of Beijing’s closest regional allies under former leader Hun Sen.

The planned canal has raised concerns from academics in neighbouring Vietnam that it could facilitate travel by Chinese warships near the Vietnamese coastline.

Hun Manet dismissed those concerns during a speech in Takeo province, where the proposed 180-kilometre waterway would cut through, ending in the coastal province of Kep.

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“The canal is a historic project that will provide benefits to our people,” he said.

Cambodian officials say construction of the canal will begin later this year with Chinese funding, although details remain sparse.

The canal — measuring 100 metres wide and 5.4 metres deep — would connect Phnom Penh with Cambodian ports on the Gulf of Thailand, bypassing Vietnam’s traditional route.

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Hun Manet rejected media reports citing two researchers at a Vietnamese state-backed institute that suggested the canal would allow Chinese warships to travel closer to the Vietnamese border.

“We will not allow (any country) to use our country as a base against another country, let alone a military base,” he said.

He added that the canal would be too shallow for a warship.

The prime minister said the canal would provide an economic boost, benefiting millions.

Hun Manet also claimed that the canal, which is expected to run from the Bassac river — a Mekong tributary — would not impact the water flow of the mainstream Mekong, whose fisheries help feed millions in the region.

His father Hun Sen, who led Cambodia for more than three decades and now holds the symbolic position of Senate president, also dismissed the critical reports this week.

In December, two Chinese warships made a first visit to a Cambodian naval base that Washington has long feared will boost Beijing’s influence in the Gulf of Thailand.

Cambodian officials have repeatedly denied the base, near the port city of Sihanoukville, is for use by any foreign power.

After Cambodia dismantled facilities at the base, built partly with American funding and having played host to US military exercises, China began funding its renovation.

Last year, Cambodian officials denied a new 363-metre pier at Ream was intended to berth aircraft carriers. — AFP

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