Public support for Cambodian canal testament to ‘nationalist spirit’: Manet


An artist’s rendition of the Funan Techo Canal project, released recently by the Ministry of Public Works and Transport. - MPWT

PHNOM PENH: Prime Minister Hun Manet compared the widespread support for the Funan Techo Canal to what he called the “spirit of nationalism”. Support has been expressed by both groups loyal to the government and those in opposition.

Manet addressed an April 28 event, held to mark May 1 International Workers' Day. During his speech, he spoke at length about the canal. He noted that while a super majority of Cambodian people have declared their support for the 180km infrastructure project, Sam Rainsy, former opposition party leader, was one of the few who remained against it.

“Even those who tend to favour the opposition and often attack me came out to show their support for the project. This demonstrates that they understand what is best for the national interests. They realise that the canal is for all Cambodians.

“Do not fear that former Prime Minister Hun Sen and I will claim credit for this. This project is for all future generations,” he said, as he expressed his pleasure at the widespread approval of the new canal.

“This great show of support is a huge force of nationalism. It demonstrates that we are all united for the benefit of the nation, the kingdom’s independence and that the project will serve the younger generations for many years to come,” he added.

The Funan Techo Canal is expected to cost almost $1.7 billion and will take four years to complete. Some members of the public have expressed their willingness to contribute money to its construction, but Manet stressed that the government will not ask for such funding.

He also warned the public not to respond to appeals for investment, as this may be used by fraudsters for personal gain.

Should a foreign investor withdraw from the project, he explained that the government will find a way to complete it, without having to raise public funds.

According to Manet, a framework agreement was signed with a construction company in China last year. Another round of agreements will be signed, possibly in August, which would enable construction to begin later this year, or early next year.

“This is not for the benefit of the Hun family. The Hun family has just initiated it. Former Prime Minister Hun Sen began the project, and I will continue to bring it to realisation,” he said.

Concerns have been expressed by some commentators in Vietnam, who suggested that it may reduce the amount of Mekong River water flowing downstream to Vietnam, which could eventually cause an environmental impact on the Mekong Delta in the neighbouring nation.

Some critics, like former opposition leader Sam Rainsy, criticised the project, saying it could be used by the Chinese military, concerns which have been allayed by both Hun Sen and Manet.

Manet noted that should the canal turn out to be a curse, it is he and Hun Sen who will bear responsibility for its construction.

“I wonder why Cambodia is being treated as a special case? Many countries along the Mekong have built canals, dams, and hydro-dams, but little attention was paid to them. As soon as started talking about this project, people wanted to interrogate us. Some media have suggested that Cambodia must clarify the issue with this or that individual,” he said.

“No, this is a national right of Cambodia. For the sake of the kingdom, we must carry out this project,” he added.

Regarding concerns about a reduction in water flowing into the Mekong Delta, Manet explained that it is estimated that just 0.06 per cent of the Mekong River’s water that flows to the sea will enter the canal.

Government spokesperson Pen Bona believed that public support for the project meant the end of extremist ideologies in Cambodia, referring to Rainsy.

“In short, the huge nationalist movement to support the Funan Techo Canal demonstrates strong unity among Cambodian people from all spectrums. They are committed to working with the government to accomplish this historic task and guarantee a prosperous future,” he said, in an April 29 social media post.

“This nationalist movement is isolating extremist leaders more than ever before. This is a sign that extremist ideology in Cambodia has come to an end,” he added.

Historian Dieb Sophal suggested that the landslide of support from the public was due to their understanding of the huge benefits of the project.

“Cambodian people understand its advantages very clearly, and see that it will make Cambodia more independent,” he said.

He noted that the public also showed their support for other recent infrastructure projects, such as Siem Reap–Angkor International Airport (SAI) and Techo International Airport, among others.

“The Funan Techo Canal project will contribute to other recent projects, and will support the kingdom’s progress to becoming a high-middle-income country by 2030 and a high-income one by 2050,” he added.

Chhay Bora, a government affairs and public policy expert, explained that through the project, Cambodia will stand out as one of the fastest-growing and most sustainable and resilient economies in the world.

He said the canal would boost Cambodia's export volume, facilitate the transport of domestic products and help the kingdom diversify its trading partners. It will also help the country recover from the economic pressures that have long been applied by Vietnamese businessmen and authorities.

“The government should fast-track the construction and restoration of the ancient Funan Canal. It will deliver long-term economic benefits and accelerate Cambodia's graduation to an upper-middle-income country by 2030 and a high-income country by 2050,” he added. - The Phnom Penh Post/ANN

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