Cambodia and Vietnam: When a Canal Should Not Divide

Vietnam has, at times, sacrificed its national interests for the sake of good relationships with its neighbours. This still rings true today.

Various recent media reports and expert commentaries have put the spotlight on Cambodia’s proposed Funan Techo Canal project, which aims to connect the Mekong River to a seaport in the province of Kep. As the Mekong is an international river, any developments that could affect it are not solely the responsibility of one country. Indeed, the actions of all countries along the river can generate significant cross-border impacts.

To ensure fair and equitable use of international rivers, various agreements and treaties have been established. In 1997, for example, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses (UNWC) to address this issue. In the case of the Mekong River, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam signed the Agreement on the Cooperation for the Sustainable Development of the Mekong River Basin in 1995. This created the Mekong River Commission to facilitate collaboration on the river. At the bilateral level, Vietnam and Cambodia also signed an agreement on waterway transportation in 2009, allowing goods to and from Cambodia to be transhipped via Vietnamese ports and through the Vietnamese portion of the Mekong River.

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