Vietnam’s Geopolitical Anxiety Over Cambodia’s Funan Techo Canal

Vietnam’s concerns about a China-backed canal project in Cambodia are making some waves. Cambodia’s new leader has a chance to calm the waters.

Cambodia’s plan to build the Funan Techo Canal, a 180-kilometre waterway linking a port in its capital Phnom Penh with Kep Province and onto the Gulf of Thailand, has made recent headlines, particularly in Vietnam. Pitched as a plan to revive Cambodia’s historic but under-utilised water systems, the canal will be 100 metres wide, 5.4 metres deep, and will accommodate ships of up to 3,000 deadweight tons (DWT). The China Road and Bridge Cooperation (CRBC) will finance the entire US$1.7 billion construction project under a Build-Operate-Transfer arrangement.

Despite Cambodia’s assurances, the plan has prompted Vietnam’s concerns about the potential environmental impact on the Mekong River. These concerns, in the author’s view, mask Vietnam’s geopolitical anxiety about its declining influence in Cambodia and China’s role in Mekong River geopolitics.

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