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Cambodia says increased networks with ASEAN, China key to boosting economy

2014-12-10 10:01 Xinhua Web Editor: Gu Liping

Cambodia sees the development of physical networks between itself and other Southeast Asian nations and China as key to boosting its economy and achieving closer regional ties, government officials said recently.

Transport Minister Tram Iv Tek said Cambodia has well-developed overland roads to connect the country to its neighboring countries, including Vietnam, Laos and Thailand; yet the nation has seen slow progress in the development of its railways and waterways.

"So far, there is no progress in the development of a new rail link from the capital Phnom Penh to the Vietnamese border (a missing line in the Singapore-Kunming Railway project) due to capital shortages," he told a Xinhua reporter on the sidelines of a parliamentary session last week.

"We will try to seek capital for this project since it will provide enormous benefits for socio-economic development in the future," he said.

Ly Borin, director of the Transport Ministry's railway department, said the Singapore-Kunming Railway Project stretches from Singapore to Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi, as well as China's Kunming.

He said that for Cambodia's part, the country has almost completed the renovation of the northern line from Phnom Penh to the Thai border -- a distance of 388 km.

"We just need to construct another six kilometers on this line so that the northern line will be connectable with the Thai side," he told Xinhua, adding that construction will commence sometime next year.

For the eastern rail network from Phnom Penh to the Vietnamese border -- a length of 255 km -- he said the work has not yet started because of capital shortages.

In 2010, China's relevant railway survey and design institute finished a feasibility study for the development of this eastern railroad network with an estimated cost of 686 million U.S. dollars.

"Currently, we need a budget for the development of this new rail link," he said, expressing his hope that China would support the project.

According to Borin, the average speed of trains in Cambodia is currently 50 km per hour, much slower than other countries, which is up to 180 km per hour.

Commenting on Chinese President Xi Jinping's announcement in Beijing last month that China would contribute 40 billion U.S. dollars to set up a Silk Road Fund and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang' s pledge of 20 billion U.S. dollars in loans to support the Southeast Asian connectivity construction, Borin said China's financial support is highly appreciated since it will enable Cambodia and other countries to expedite their infrastructural development.

"Cambodia hopes to access these funds because we need a lot of capital for connectivity development," he said.

Lou Kim Chhun, director-general of the state-owned Sihanoukville Autonomous Port, which is Cambodia's largest shipping facility, said the sea port is well connected to its neighboring countries and China.

"Currently, we operate direct routes between our port and a few ports in China's Hong Kong and southern China," he told Xinhua.

He said the water depth at the port is 8.5 meters, deep enough to receive ships weighing more than 10,000 tons, and the port can handle nearly 5 million tons of goods per year.

"Our challenge is the shortage of cranes to lift containers on and off the ships," he said, adding that the port is seeking a budget of about 11 million U.S. dollars to purchase more cranes.

Sharing his views on the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road initiative, Lou Kim Chhun said Cambodia fully supported the initiative.

He said, "The Sihanoukville Autonomous Port is ready to join the project because we believe that it will contribute to broadening Cambodia's trade and tourism relations with ASEAN and China."

Kim Savuth, vice-president of the Federation of Cambodian Rice Exporters, said, however, that Cambodia is lagging behind its neighboring countries in terms of waterways and railways.

"Talking about roads, Cambodia has connected effectively with its neighbors, but in terms of waterways and railways, it cannot compete with its neighbors such as Thailand and Vietnam," he said.

"It is essential for Cambodia to push for the development of waterways and railways since they are a low-cost means for transporting goods," said Savuth, who is also the president of a leading rice exporting company, Khmer Food.

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