Cambodia vexes Vietnam with plan to divert Mekong trade via China-built canal

Planned Phnom Penh-to-coast link raises alarms amid regional influence tussle.

From his house in Prek Takeo on the banks of the Mekong river, an hour’s drive from Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Mao Sarin can watch ships laden with containers chug by on their way to Vietnam and the river’s giant delta.

If the government of newly installed Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Manet follows through on plans, future shipments could travel along a $1.7bn, Chinese-funded canal — a project that would eliminate Mao Sarin’s tin-roofed home. The Funan Techo canal would directly connect Phnom Penh with Cambodian ports along the Gulf of Thailand, bypassing Vietnam’s traditional hold on the mouth of one of Asia’s biggest waterways.

“I have seen the development team come here to take measurements almost 20 times,” said Mao Sarin, a motorcycle-taxi driver and former soldier who has lived beside the river for more than three decades. “We are waiting in suspense.”

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