Senate president Hun Sen has recommended that the government begin construction of the much-debated Funan Techo Canal as soon as possible. 

“I would advise government leaders not to spend too long thinking about it. The project should start as soon as possible,” he said, in a special video address to the nation at noon today.

“I think the government should hold a groundbreaking ceremony,” he added.

The 180km canal project has received widespread support from the Cambodian people and may be started as soon as the end of the year, according to several government officials. It is estimated that the project will cost $1.7 billion, and take four years to complete.

Some commentators and critics of the government have linked it to alleged Chinese expansionism, with some even suggesting that it may have a military use.

Hun Sen described linking the canal project to geopolitical issues as “ridiculous”. He said the width of the canal is very small, so vessel travelling on it would be an easy target for B40 rocket propelled grenades.

He explained that it was those who are against China that oppose the project. 

“Security concerns for Vietnam make no sense at all, as China and Vietnam are friends and Cambodia and Vietnam are friends too. They won’t fight on Cambodian soil,” he said.

“Let me emphasise that there is no link to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. It is purely the initiative of Cambodia. It will support our socio-economic development and political independence through the Kingdom’s infrastructure,” he added.

“We must become independent in the transportation sector, and this goes beyond mere socio-economic development,” he continued.

He also pointed out that there is no requirement for Cambodia to negotiate with anyone, as the Kingdom follows article 5 of the 1995 Mekong Agreement, which specifies that only notification is needed for projects which are built on a tributary of the Mekong River.

He added that Cambodian had informed Vietnam and Laos of the project out of politeness.