Vietnamese and Cambodian officials met on Wednesday to discuss ways to upgrade transport links between the two nations—improvements which both sides hope will bolster trade and bring development to remote border provinces.
Vietnam’s transport minister, Dao Dinh Binh, met with his Cambodian counterpart, Khy Taing Lim, the minister of Public Works and Transportation, as part of Dao Dinh Binh’s official visit to Cambodia.
The topics the ministers discussed will form the Agreement on Transport Cooperation, due to be signed when the officials return from a trip to Siem Reap Friday.
Khy Taing Lim said the construction of National Route 78, which will span the 70 km between Banlung, in Ratanakkiri province, and O’Ya-daw, on the Vietnamese border, was high on the agenda.
The $24 million road has been designated a high priority project, the minister added. Work on the highway is due to begin this year, and a completion date has been set for 2005.
When finished, Route 78 will form part of a massive regional road link that will begin in China, pass through Vietnam to the north of Cambodia, and connect to the seaport of Sihanoukville. Khy Taing Lim said both nations hope the new road will encourage people to live and work in the currently undeveloped border region where Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia meet.
Khy Taing Lim said he asked the Vietnamese minister to partially fund the project, as its completion would be of great benefit to both nations. The Vietnamese minister promised to take the request to his prime minister, Tran Duc Luong, for consideration, Khy Taing Lim said.
Dao Dinh Binh has requested that specialist Vietnamese public companies be allowed to bid for construction contracts in Cambodia, Khy Taing Lim said.
The two transport chiefs also discussed the Asean Railway Project, which plans to connect Singapore to Kunming, China. Cambodia currently represents a weak link in the proposal, with very little rail infrastructure in place.
Khy Taing Lim said the government is currently looking at how to launch a massive rail reconstruction project. The government is also looking for funding for 300 km of railway track, connecting Cambodia with Vietnam’s rail routes.
“I believe that this railway project will be profitable,” Khy Taing Lim said. “It is a huge project,” he said, “so if Vietnam is willing to cooperate on it, we will welcome that.”
Inland waterways, considered by many observers be a key element of environmentally friendly, sustainable transport development, were also discussed at the meeting.
“We talked about a canal link between Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City, and how we will set the service charges,” Khy Taing Lim said. “The cheaper the transportation, the more shipping activity there will be.”
Both nations need to exploit the full potential of their inland waterways, the transport minister said—as suggested in reports by the Mekong River Commission. Cambodia has a total of 1,700 km of waterways, but only a 100-km stretch between Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City is currently being used as a shipping line.
Khy Taing Lim called on the Vietnamese government to give technical assistance to waterway development on both sides of the border, and to help Cambodia connect Vietnam to Siem Reap by canal, where the Asian Development Bank is funding the construction of a new shipping port.
Vietnam is currently ahead of Cambodia on a number of transportation projects, Dao Dinh Binh said, due to the skill and expertise of construction companies working under the Ministry of Transport there.
One example of this is the construction of National Route 1, which will link Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh and eventually Bangkok.
The road is more or less completed on the Vietnamese side—the stretch from the Ho Chi Minh City to the border town of Moc Bai is due to be officially opened in April.
But the section linking Phnom Penh to Bavet, on the Cambodian side of the border, is currently only about 70 percent complete, said Uk Chan, under-secretary of state for the Cambodian transport ministry.
Cambodia is experiencing “technical problems” in executing the transport projects, the minister said. “We hope that Vietnam will be able to exchange with Cambodia,” Khy Taing Lim added.