Help us build better, PM says at China bridge launch

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Prime Minister Hun Sen inaugurates the Stung Trang-Kroch Chhmar Cambodia-China Friendship Bridge on Tuesday. PUBLIC WORKS MINISTRY

Prime Minister Hun Sen urged the Group of Seven (G7) nations – US, UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan – to provide increased development assistance to Cambodia instead of criticising the country for its close relationship with China.

The G7 is an international diplomatic forum consisting of the seven countries that are the world’s most developed democracies with representational governments.

Hun Sen made the remarks on November 23 during the inauguration ceremony for the Stung Trang-Kroch Chhmar Cambodia-China Friendship Bridge, which connects Kampong Cham province east across the Mekong River to Tbong Khmum province.

“Now, I am looking forward to the arrival of BBB or Build Back Better. I welcome it and hope that the foreign ministers of ASEAN and G7 – the seven richest countries – will give some opportunities to Cambodia to receive some projects,” Hun Sen said, referring to US President Joe Biden’s post-pandemic recovery legislation.

“We still lack bridges and roads,” he said.

Hun Sen praised the Chinese government for providing development support to Cambodia, saying China always agreed to the Kingdom’s requests for support without any strings attached.

“The best thing about having China as a friend is that if Cambodia makes something a priority that it must accomplish, then we can submit that plan to China. China then provides us with loans according to our actual needs.

“That is what’s special about China and different from other sources [of funding]. The others tell us that we must spend development money on one thing when we actually need to invest it in something else entirely,” he said.

He continued that China has provided financial assistance to construct at least four long bridges across Cambodia’s rivers and to construct 3,000km of roads across the country.

He further stated that using foreign loans for infrastructure was the most equitable way to spend those funds because everyone – rich and poor – travels on the roads and bridges and benefits from schools and hospitals.

The prime minister said he regarded China as the most reliable source for Covid-19 vaccines and the other sources as backups. Cambodia, he noted, has purchased at least 28 million Chinese vaccine doses, while less than one million doses have arrived in Cambodia through Covax – a global initiative aimed at ensuring equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines.

A native of Kampong Cham province’s Stung Trang district, Hun Sen also had a message for his political opponents, saying he will stay in power as long as he wants to because it is the will of the people that he wins re-election.

“At all costs, Hun Sen must never bow his head and submit to any external pressure which would lead to instability and the loss of peace in this country. Hun Sen would like to declare this once again at my birth place.

“No matter how long I extend my mandate – it is up to me. If the people vote for me, I will be prime minster forever. Don’t look for any weakness in Hun Sen’s health. I can cycle at least 80 minutes a day without a break,” he said. “I will continue to take the field against the extremists in order to protect peace.”

Hun Sen was apparently directing his message at long-time political foil Sam Rainsy, the former leader of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party who lives in self-exile in France and remains under indictment in Cambodia.

The prime minister even dared his political opponents to “mobilise their forces” to go and protest against him at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, which he plans to attend in-person from January 17-21.

“Hun Sen will attend the World Economic Forum. Please get ready to protest against me there,” he said. “If you want the International Criminal Court to arrest me, then they can do it there. That would be easier for them [because] Cambodia is an independent country.”

Thong Mengdavid, a research fellow at the Mekong Centre for Strategic Studies at the Asian Vision Institute, said that although the Covid-19 pandemic is not over quite yet, Hun Sen has a great track record so far with public health policy.

“Chinese vaccines are acknowledged by the World Health Organisation and they are available at lower prices and are easy for us to access with rapid transportation here as compared to the other makes of vaccines,” he said.

Mengdavid said the excellent diplomatic relations between Cambodia and China ensures that the Kingdom receives Chinese vaccines and other medical assistance and equipment before it is offered to other nations.

“Chinese assistance has even enabled Cambodia to turn around and donate vaccines to other countries in the region to aid with their recovery efforts, which is of great benefit to Cambodia diplomatically and a demonstration of the Kingdom’s good will towards neighbours,” he said.