Hun Sen Signals Vietnam Friendship Despite Canal Controversy

Senate President Hun Sen has congratulated the newly elected National Assembly president of Vietnam Tran Thanh Man. Photo: AFP/SHS/Media

PHNOM PENH – Senate President Hun Sen has congratulated the newly elected National Assembly president of Vietnam Tran Thanh Man amid controversy over the Funan Techo Canal construction which is expected to start by the end of the year.

Tran Thanh  Man was elected on May 20, replacing Vuong Dinh Hue, who resigned last month  due to “violations and shortcomings.”

A day later Senator Hun Sen sent a congratulatory message to Tran Thanh Man, hoping to further strengthen the relationship with Vietnam and its legislative bodies.

Vietnam and Cambodia have close cooperation in all dimensions, and Senator Hun Sen aims to increase mutual understanding and the traditional bond of friendship.

“I am highly confident that under your leadership, the National Assembly of Vietnam will continue to support and foster our parliamentary cooperation to be more comprehensive and effective under bilateral and multilateral relations frameworks, further contributing to the peace, stability and prosperity of our two countries and the region,” he wrote in a letter.

On May 20,  Cambodia’s top diplomat Sok Chenda Sophea asked Vietnamese Ambassador Nguyen Huy Tang to identify those behind “insulting” comments on former prime minister Hun Sen’s social media account. Those are assumed to respond to his speech on the canal.

Tang agreed that posting hostile content was a negative action that required close cooperation between the countries’ authorities to find those responsible.

In a televised address on May 16, Hun Sen urged the government to start work on the canal immediately as the country needs transport independence.

The project has received geographical criticism and environmental and social concerns from the public and neighboring countries.

Hun Sen denied the allegations about the Chinese Navy using the shallow canal, warned against Cambodia's involvement in an anti-China campaign, and emphasized the canal's unsuitability for warship mobilization.

Kin Phea, director of the Royal Academy of Cambodia's International Relations Institute, said the relationship between these two countries has always been honored by the leaders of both sides.

Cambodia and Vietnam usually show their commitment and willingness to cooperate as a good neighbor, he said.

“So, when the leaders visit each other or send congratulatory messages, it shows the traditional bond of friendship. I think the Funan Techo Canal should not be a barrier or a cause to break the relationship between Cambodia and Vietnam.”

Cambodia is an independent territory while the canal is built on the country’s soil, which causes no problem at all. The project has been studied thoroughly about the impact on the Mekong River, which is minimal, and the lives of the local people

“The problem arises unless Vietnam has the other excuses in regards to the economy or geopolitics,” said Phea.

Seun Sam, a policy analyst at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said there were two levels of Cambodia and Vietnam friendship – leadership and people-to-people. Governments need to maintain good diplomatic relations, he said.

Some citizens, however, due to the history of geographical issues, are not happy with one another. With the canal project, irritation and tensions have arisen to a greater or lesser extent.

“When one country thinks of its own interest without thinking of unity in the region, the problems arise,” Seun Sam said.

“Vietnam must respect Cambodia’s decision and its sovereignty and independence. It should not be worried too much about the canal project.

“Vietnam opposes our development, and while the relationship with the upper glass is positive, further discussion is needed to determine mutual interest.”

Deputy Prime Minister and First Vice President of the Council for the Development of Cambodia Sun Chanthol said the new infrastructure will affect the lives of people who live or farm on the canal’s planned route.

An estimated 1,585 houses, three bridges, one factory, 14 national roads (4km in total), 70 paths (45.5km), 15 ponds (13.6 hectares), 2,900 hectares of rice fields and farming land, and 149.5 hectares of residential land are located along the canal.

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