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Cambodia getting a China-backed, game-changing canal

BANGKOK – Cambodia wants to divert Southeast Asia’s Mekong River into a planned US$1.7 billion, Chinese-financed shipping canal to reach a deep-sea port at Kep near Sihanoukville on southern Cambodia’s Gulf of Thailand coast.

The Funan Techo Canal would enable Cambodians to be “breathing through our own nose,” said newly elected Prime Minister Hun Manet, son and heir to long-time authoritarian former prime minister Hun Sen.

Cambodia, for the first time, could import and export goods by ship from its capital Phnom Penh’s port via the canal to a would-be deepwater port in Kep province on the Gulf of Thailand, opening onto the South China Sea.

Ships to and from Hong Kong, Singapore and other ports could reroute, or add shipping lanes, to Kep to access the canal if it increases trade. Shipping containers from those ocean-going vessels would be transferred by cranes at Kep to and from canal barges.

A successful Chinese-financed canal would also deepen Beijing’s economic, diplomatic and other links with Phnom Penh while lessening Cambodia’s dependence on Hanoi.

In 1994, the lack of a canal allowed Vietnam to block Cambodia’s shipping through the Mekong Delta because of a feud between the two countries.

Beijing reportedly signed the canal agreement with Phnom Penh under China’s Build-Operate-Transfer contract. Officials from China’s Belt and Road Initiative participated in the signing.

Cambodia “did not borrow money from China to build the canal,” said a delighted Prime Minister Hun Manet.

“Based on the contract for Funan Techo Canal, the Chinese company would manage the canal, including maintaining it and making a profit from charging for passage through the canal,” reported ThinkChina, a Singapore-based online information