LOEUK DEK DISTRICT, Kandal province – A fleet of more than 80 luxury vehicles loaded with dignitaries and their security details made the first trip across Cambodia’s newest and longest bridge Monday before it was opened to locals, who quickly caused its first traffic jam.
The 2.2-km Tsubasa Bridge—built with $127 million in Japanese grants—was officially inaugurated by Prime Minister Hun Sen here Monday morning. Spanning the Mekong River, it will connect Phnom Penh by road to the provinces of Svay Rieng and Prey Veng, and to neighboring Vietnam.
Speaking to a crowd of more than 8,000 people gathered near the bridge, a jovial Mr. Hun Sen noted the transience of the Japanese prime ministership—the country has had 18 leaders since Mr. Hun Sen took power in 1985—and then thanked the country for its continued support of the development of Cambodia.
“The important thing with Japan is that [it] has consensus in politics,” Mr. Hun Sen said. “No matter which party is ruling or who is the prime minister, the aid to Cambodia keeps coming, continuously.”
“Long live Cambodian-Japanese friendship.”
Peppering his praise for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with jokes, Mr. Hun Sen also explained the economic importance of the Tsubasa Bridge, which is part of a long-term plan to build a road link between Ho Chi Minh City and Bangkok, via Phnom Penh and Poipet City.
“The bridge has great value in addition to the link within Cambodia. It also provides links on a regional level,” he said, going on to explain how he would forever be remembered as the man who made its construction possible.
“No matter what, history will record who came to open, who came to connect and who came to inaugurate [the bridge],” he said. “Even 1,000 years after I die, my name will still be here.”
The roads between Ho Chi Minh and Bangkok will become part of what is to be known as Asean Highway 1, set for completion in 2020, according to the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which is helping fund the highway.
At Monday’s ceremony, JICA president Akihiko Tanaka sat behind Mr. Hun Sen among a large group of political, military and business heavyweights.
“I hope and believe that the Tsubasa Bridge…not only strengthens the relationship between Cambodia and Japan, but also plays an important role as a symbol of peace and development..in the region,” Mr. Tanaka said.
Following the formalities, Mr. Hun Sen led the assembled crowds on a 1-km walk to the Tsubasa’s entrance, where a ribbon was cut and hundreds of red, white and blue balloons were released into the air.
Dozens of luxury cars carrying deputy prime ministers, ministers, military commanders, lawmakers and bodyguards then made their way across the bridge, pausing in the middle so their occupants could pose for photos over the Mekong.
Then, at about 10:40 a.m., the dignitaries made way for thousands of local residents who had lined up, mostly on motorbikes, to be among the first people to traverse the bridge.
Put to the test for the first time, the two-lane bridge quickly became clogged with traffic and stayed that way for more than an hour.
About 1 km downstream, the Neak Loeung ferry, which ended its operations Monday, ran until the bridge was officially opened, but by midday the boats had stopped and the landing was all but deserted.
One family of vendors had just finished packing their food stall into a makeshift tractor near the ferry port. As they drove away, possibly for the last time, a young girl clinging to a piece of corrugated iron in the back called happily, “We are going to cross the new bridge!”