Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday attended the opening of a $36.5 million bridge that links Cambodia’s National Road 21 in Kandal province to Vietnam’s An Giang province, boasting that the project would boost trade and cooperation between the two countries.
Standing alongside his Vietnamese counterpart, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Mr. Hun Sen also took the opportunity to display his fluency in Vietnamese, speaking in the language for several minutes and adding that he hoped “people will not condemn me for speaking Vietnamese.”
“Because there are some people that translate my speech incorrectly, I shall speak Vietnamese,” Mr. Hun Sen said to the audience. “At this point, when they see me speaking Vietnamese, they accuse me of being Vietnam’s puppet.”
The opposition has regularly accused the premier of being too close to Hanoi, a claim that the ruling party has consistently denied and characterized as racially charged criticism.
A former Khmer Rouge cadre, Mr. Hun Sen fled Cambodia in 1977 and returned with Vietnamese military forces during that country’s war against the hard-line communists in 1979. He was initially appointed foreign minister, and later rose to the rank of prime minister in the Vietnamese-supported regime in 1985.
Transport Minister Sun Chanthol, who attended the ceremony at the Chrey Thom bridge, touted the road’s potential to promote not only economic cooperation, “but also social and cultural connections, and make travel…easier and faster.”
According to the minister, the cost of the 427-meter bridge was split between the two countries, with the Cambodian side’s funding coming from a more than $15 million loan provided by the Vietnamese government.
Several times throughout his speech, Mr. Hun Sen repeated a common CPP refrain that the party had turned war-torn Cambodia into a rapidly developing country during its time in power, using the bridge’s opening as another example of such reforms.
“I already succeeded in transforming former battlefield areas into market areas,” he said. “Now we are trying to transform border areas…to be developed areas, for friendly cooperation and trade connections.”