Senate president Hun Sen has made it clear that Cambodia will not back down or negotiate with any country regarding the 180km Funan Techo Canal.

He stressed that the 1995 Mekong Agreement does not require any of the members of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) members to do so.

“I will not back down on this and I want to stress frankly that there is no need to negotiate. Do not try to force Cambodia to the negotiating table,” he said, while addressing the Cambodian Oknha Association conference, held on the evening of April 26.

Construction of the Funan Techo Canal is set to kick off later this year and will link the Bassac River with the Kingdom’s coastline, in Kep province. The project has drawn concerns from Vietnamese officials, as well as academics in the neighbouring country.

Hun Sen explained that the Mekong Agreement only requires signatories to inform the MRC about projects which are built on the tributaries of the Mekong. It does not mandate members to seek consultation or unanimous approval among the signatories.

“Let me explain. We are not using the Mekong River, we are using the Bassac, which is only a tributary. In this regard, we don't need any consultation at all because we are only using a tributary of the Mekong,” he said.

According to Hun Sen, Cambodia informed the MRC about the project in August last year.

“I question whether the 1995 Mekong Agreement is still valid. If it is, then there is no need to negotiate. If you want to know about the project, ask for the details from the MRC. We can supply more information if necessary, but there will be no negotiations,” he added.

He also warned that if Vietnam is not happy with this project, the Kingdom may be forced to ban Cambodia goods from passing through Vietnam via the Mekong.

“Without this canal, it is like we are depending on other people's oxygen to breathe. They can cut it anytime they want. I want Vietnam to understand that this is why Cambodia must accomplish this project,” he explained.

Hun Sen elaborated on the benefits of the canal, which include easy transportation of goods to the sea and improved agriculture and aquaculture conditions in the southwest of the Kingdom through water storage, as well as the use of the canal to absorb flood waters during the rainy season and as a reservoir during the dry season.

He noted that it will also reduce logistics costs below the current fees charged by Vietnamese ports.

In addition, it will enable the improved transportation of goods manufactured in the provinces along the upper part of the Mekong and around the Tonle Sap Lake.

“I hope that the leaders of Vietnam understand the need for all of these benefits. Recently, there have been discussions at Can Tho University about this issue,” he said.

​He also explained that the impact of the project on the people living along the new canal will be minimal, as its route will follow the path of historic canals which existed long ago.

Hitting back at the claims of academics at Can Tho University, Hun Sen questioned their assertions that the construction of the canal may lead to the loss of up to 70 per cent of the water supply to the Mekong Delta, in Vietnam.

He noted the canal will store rainwater during the rainy season and that salt water will not intrude into Cambodia's provinces along the length of the project.

“When this new infrastructure is complete, rainwater will be enough to maintain water levels. The project will include three dams with sluices which will ensure that fresh water will not flow into the sea and that salt water will not intrude into the canal,” he said.

Allaying fears that the canal may somehow be used by the Chinese military, as some critics have alleged, Hun Sen said: “Cambodia is not stupid enough to allow Chinese troops to be stationed on our territory, in breach of our constitution”.

“China is not so foolish as to position their soldiers here anyway, as this would be contrary to the principles of the Kingdom’s independence and sovereignty,” he added.

He also noted that there are current water shortages in the Mekong Delta, despite construction of the canal not even having begun yet, and suggested that this situation was natural, and had occurred as recently as 2016.

He also recalled how Cambodia abandoned its plans to build a hydrodam – which would have produced 3,000 megawatts – due to concerns, both from local groups and from Vietnam, but reiterated that the Kingdom would not back down from the construction of the canal.

“The Funan Techo Canal will not affect ecological systems, but will create a new connection between the Bassac and the sea, while introducing a new water supply along its length,” said Hun Sen.

He called on Cambodian and Vietnamese people alike to avoid irrational conflict and to consider the broad benefits of the project.

In the event that the construction project faces financial shortfalls, he called upon the members of the Oknha association to step in and support the major infrastructure project by investing in it.

“I call on each of my Cambodian compatriots to support the Funan Techo Canal,” he added.

The former prime minister also advised foreign powers to cease using their objections to the project as a pretext to oppose Cambodia’s ambitions and progress.