HANOI, Oct. 29, Kyodo - Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan agreed with leaders of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam on Friday in Hanoi to continue cooperating on the development of infrastructure in the resource-rich Mekong region.
The second summit with the Mekong nations following the inaugural gathering in November 2009 in Tokyo was held on the sideline of meetings involving the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Kan and his five counterparts adopted a joint statement affirming further enhancement of cooperation, with the Mekong nations calling Japan a ''long-standing, reliable and indispensable partner'' and urging Tokyo's continued commitment to their region.
Two other documents -- an action plan on an initiative known as ''A Decade toward the Green Mekong'' agreed by Japan and the five nations last year and another action plan on Japan-Mekong economic and industrial cooperation -- were also agreed upon.
Under the action plan, Tokyo aims to strengthen cooperation on tackling climate change and other environmental challenges by offering financial aid such as official development aid, as well as technical aid through its technologies and knowledge in these areas.
Japan says the Mekong region is vital to the peace and stability of East Asia and a potential source of trade.
Through the talks, Japan apparently wants to raise local awareness of Japan's aid in infrastructure projects in the Mekong region, as it competes with other countries such as China for presence in the region.
By Puy Kea
PHNOM PENH, Oct. 22, Kyodo - The first segment of a new international standard railroad opened in Cambodia on Friday, a major step towards the creation of a long-awaited Pan-Asian railroad.
While passengers have to wait for the next step, freight rail service has begun along a 120-kilometer stretch of rail between Phnom Penh and Cambodia's Touk Meas in southern Kampot Province near the border with Vietnam.
Rail links were introduced in Cambodia in the 1920s during French colonial rule with lines linking the capital to the northern border with Thailand and Sihanoukville in the south, but construction of the links was only completed in 1942 and 1969, respectively.
Then, decades of conflict left Cambodia's railroads in serious disrepair, rail traffic declining and the poor condition of the tracks led to frequent derailments.
And until Friday, no trains had run in the country for more than a year.
Still, only 120 km of the 650 km of track from Poipet near the border with Thailand to Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville is ready.
And 48 km of track heading to Poipet which were destroyed by the Khmer Rouge will be reconstructed and to be fully linked to other part of the country by 2012.
The Asian Development Bank is providing $84 million in loans for the reconstruction and repair of the 650 km of track in the country.
Australia is providing an additional $21.5 million in loan in support of the $141 million project to be run by Toll Holdings, an Australian company.
Cambodia is putting up $20.3 million.
''We are on the cusp of a contiguous 'Iron Silk Road' stretching from Singapore to Scotland,'' Kunio Senga, director general of the ADB's Southeast Asia Department, said. ''This possibility has been talked about for decades, but today the dream has finally taken a big step toward becoming reality.''
The new railway will help lower the cost of staple commodities that Cambodian families rely upon.
''This new railroad represents another important step for Cambodia in overcoming its legacy of conflict,'' Senga added. ''With better infrastructure and closer economic ties with its neighbors, Cambodia's people are enjoying a peace dividend more than ever before.''
Once Cambodia's railroad is finished, only a link between Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam will remain before a pan-Asian railway is complete.
Cambodia and Vietnam have already signed an agreement to link their railways, and China is supporting a design study on a rail link from Phnom Penh to Loc Ninh in Vietnam.
The railway rehabilitation project is a vital component of the Greater Mekong Subregion's southern economic corridor linking Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam and is a key component of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Singapore-Kunming Rail Link Project.
Toll Holdings has been awarded a 30-year contract to operate and maintain the rehabilitated railway system.
Wayne Hunt, CEO and President of Toll’s Global Logistics Division which operates the railway said, “Today marks a very important milestone in the ongoing development of Cambodia. With the launch of an operational rail freight service between Phnom Penh and Touk Meas, cargo can be transported more easily around this area while also reducing vehicle congestion and truck over-loading on the roads”.
“This line is set to provide a valuable link to businesses throughout Cambodia, as well as linking up the country with the rest of South East Asia. Toll is particularly proud to be part of such an exciting time in Cambodia’s development, and will continue to work with the Cambodian government to support their commitment to road to rail transportation,” he said.
Wayne Hunt added the train service will help save between 10 and 20 percent of truck transport costs and will help ease traffic congestion.
Echoing at the official launch,David Kerr, CEO of Toll Royal Railway commented, “Toll Royal Railway is committed to the people of Cambodia, and we have so far employed over 150 staff. We hope to add to this as the business grows, giving opportunities for local people to develop their careers with an international company.”
“As an employer of choice in the region, we greatly value our staff, their families and communities, and take our role as a corporate citizen very seriously,” he said.
Referring to the section opened Friday, Hunt said 50 out of 330 cars and eight out of 15 locomotives are in place and are operational, while two are reserved for passenger traffic to begin in the near future. The rest are for freight.
Cement and oil are initially at least to be main products shipped from Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh.
According to plans, the entire 650-kilometer railway system is to be operational in 2012, making Cambodia a vital part of regional rail transport.
HANOI, 12, Oct. 12, Kyodo - Defense ministers of 18 countries in the Asia-Pacific region met in Vietnam's capital Tuesday to discuss regional security and maritime matters, including overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea.
The thorny issue surfaced at the inaugural ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting Plus, involving the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations and its eight dialogue partners -- China, India, Japan, South Korea, the United States, Russia, Australia and New Zealand.
The one-day meeting, held under the theme of ''Strategic Cooperation for Peace, Stability and Development in the Region,'' was organized to discuss five main topics: maritime security, cooperation in humanitarian and disaster assistance, antiterrorism and piracy, cooperation in military medicine, and cooperation in peacekeeping.
While the issue of unresolved disputes in the South China Sea was not formally on the agenda, diplomatic sources said some participants including those from the United States, Japan, Malaysia and Singapore broached it, despite China's opposition to the issue being ''internationalized.''
Besides China and Taiwan, which claim virtually the entire South China Sea, other parts are claimed by ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. ASEAN also includes Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore and Thailand.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the United States, which is not a claimant, does not take sides and hopes for a peaceful solution arrived at through open diplomacy and dialogue.
He said the United States, which has critical interests in the South China Sea in terms of freedom of navigation, is willing to help craft a legally binding ''code of conduct'' that would ensure regional stability, free navigation and peaceful international commerce.
U.S. officials have said Washington does not seek a direct mediating role, but rather it seeks to facilitate an environment where claimants can feel more comfortable in dialogue in a multilateral setting, including ASEAN as a whole.
But China questions U.S. motivations and wants the unresolved claims in the South China Sea to be resolved bilaterally among the claimants, without outside intervention.
According to diplomatic sources, Malaysia was the most active at the meeting in raising the issue, urging that a solution be arrived at in a ''constructive'' manner rather than a ''competitive one.''
It said ''wars of words'' being exchanged between China and the United States are not conducive to a solution, they said.
In his remarks at the ADMM Plus, Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie said, ''Practical cooperation within multilateral frameworks does not mean settling all security issues, which is not consistent with the principles of gradualism and taking into account the comfort level of all parties.''
''Instead, such practical cooperation should be carried out steadily in areas where all countries have shared needs, common interests, and the willingness to cooperate, where the conditions are ripe,'' he added.
According to diplomatic sources, China was put on the defensive at a recent meeting of the 27-member ASEAN Regional Forum in Hanoi when some participants, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, raised the South China Sea issue and called for a multilateral approach.
The sources said China later accused Vietnam of being provocative by using that forum of foreign ministers to ''internationalize'' the maritime dispute, likening its involvement of the United States in the discussion to bringing a wolf into the house.
China also suggested the United States is interested in getting more involved in the matter in order to stir the situation, make it more confused and exploit it for to preserve its ''dominant status.''
The ADMM Plus was preceded by a spat between China and Japan over Japan's arrest of a Chinese fishing boat captain over maritime collision near the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, and between China and Vietnam over the former's detention of a Vietnamese fishing boat close to disputed islands.
By Puy Kea
HANOI, Oct. 12, Kyodo - The Cambodian government denied Tuesday it trained any Thai civilians to take part in assassinations in Thailand.
Tea Banh, deputy prime minister and minister of National Defense told Kyodo News in Hanoi, ''There is no such nonsense, training in Cambodia. Why would Cambodia have done that, for what?''
''It is not a new thing, but a repeated claim on this and that (from Thailand),'' Tea Banh added.
He is in Vietnam for the first meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' defense ministers and their dialogue partners from Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Russia and the United States.
Thailand claimed Monday, and repeated the charge Tuesday, that 11 men arrested Oct. 2 in Chiang Mai Province received training in firearms in Cambodia.
Police Lt. Col. Payao Thongsen, chief of the Department of Special Investigation, said 39 Thai men were trained in firearms use in Cambodia, allegedly for a mission to assassinate key Thai public figures, including the prime minister.
Payao claimed the 11 suspects confessed they were among the 39 who were recruited and taken by antigovernment leaders to Cambodia, without passing immigration, for three weeks of firearms training at a Cambodian army camp in Siem Reap Province.
The Thai opposition charges Payao's department is simply a political tool of the current government.
But the claim over alleged training in Cambodia is yet another thorn in relations between Phnom Penh and Bangkok.
Cambodia and Thailand have had sporadic border firefights since Cambodia's Preah Vihear temple was listed as a World heritage in 2008 and Cambodian and Thai troops continue to face off in the area.
And relations between the countries plunged when ousted Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was appointed a Cambodian government economic adviser and personal adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen in November last year.
Thailand recalled its ambassador and Cambodia followed suit.
Relations only began to thaw after Thaksin resigned from the two posts in August this year and the ambassadors once again took up their posts in Phnom Penh and Bangkok.
By Puy Kea
PHNOM PENH, Sept. 3 Kyodo - No one is yet sure when the sky above Phnom Penh is to be pierced by Asia's tallest skyscraper, but Prime Minister Hun Sen said this week he has already approved a
master plan to include the vertiginous piece of architecture in the city's development.
Across the globe, the 555-meter building will be topped only by the 828-meter Burj Khalifa in Dubai. In Asia it will best the World Financial Center in Shanghai, Asia's second tallest building, by 63
meters and top Asia's tallest skyscraper, Taipei 101, by 46 meters.
Hun Sen said the Phnom Penh architectural phenomenon will be
built by Overseas Cambodian Investment Corp., known as Canadia Bank,
which is owned by a Cambodian tycoon who has recently completed a
32-story building, now the tallest building in Cambodia.
But the premier's dream for his impoverished country's skyline
has prompted mixed reactions from local and international experts in
architecture, engineering and construction.
Rainer Israel, director of Cambodian engineering firm iLi
Consulting Engineers Mekong, told Kyodo News the proposal is
ambitious but ''not impossible'' if any investor is committed to
The question, he said, is if the investor ''is really committed
to doing the project.''
He also noted the market in Phnom Penh may not be ready for such
a skyscraper for 10 to 20 years yet.
On the technical side, Israel added, the proposed site at Koh
Pich Island, a newly developed satellite city, is not yet stable
enough for such a massive structure because the island was formed
fewer than 100 years ago.
But, Touch Samnang, project manager at Koh Pich Island City,
said there is no need to worry about stable land because current
technology is such that the building could ''even be built on the
He said the architectural plan for the more than $200 million
skyscraper is in place and has already been submitted to engineers
and concerned ministries and institutions.
''Once we have money, we can build anything,'' he said.
But, he admitted, groundbreaking is still some years away as
more studies are being worked out.
Sung Bonna, president of Bonna Realty Group, said he supports
the project and ''dreams'' to see Phnom Penh with such a high
building, but he was also sanguine about capital investment and the
need for a 555-meter building now.
''If we look at the present markets, it might need at least five
to 10 years, and that still depends on the economic situation and
political stability,'' he said.
But even if the plan for massive skyscraper is now being
considered as premature, it is clear Cambodia is already enjoying a
boom in architectural schemes in the capital, despite concern from
conservationists and cultural groups for Phnom Penh's French colonial
The 32-story Canadia Bank owned by tycoon Pung Khiav Se is
already in place and many other buildings, including 22-, 32-, 38-
and 42-story behemoths, are under construction.
But Vann Molyvann, the renowned Cambodian architect who has
designed many of Phnom Penh's important sites since the 1950s,
including the Independence Monument, Phnom Penh VIP International
Airport and the Olympic Stadium, worries about seeing a massively
high building rise over the capital.
''I do not want to make any comment that will jeopardize the
development plan of the country, but my view is that Burj Khalifa was
assembled in a wealthy area of the world with wealthy foreign
investors for wealthy people.
''Cambodia is a small country'' and it cannot afford ''such a
folly,' he said.
But the prime minister, who has little time for
conservationists, often says the world is ''moving to modernization
and technology'' and Cambodia does not ''deserve'' to be left out.
''We don't have to be too conservative and to be too outdated,''
Hun Sen repeated again this week as he unveiled the plan to push 555
meters into the sky above Phnom Penh.
PHNOM PENH, Sept. 1 KYODO - Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said Wednesday he cannot be satisfied with relations with Thailand as long as the Thai military maintains a presence inside Cambodian territory.
He was commenting on the returns last week of the Thai ambassador to Phnom Penh and the Cambodian ambassador to Bangkok.
Thailand recalled its ambassador on Nov. 5 last year to protest Cambodia making former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra a government adviser.
Cambodia pulled its ambassador out of Bangkok the same day.
Hun Sen said the return of the ambassadors last week was ''only a change on the surface.''
''I am not satisfied and nor am smiling while you are shaking my hand and at the same time you step on my foot,'' Hun Sen said, adding the border conflict with Thailand has never been related to the appointment of Thaksin.
It is, he said, because the Thai military entered into Cambodian territory on July 15, 2008, just a week after Cambodia's Preah Vihear Temple, in the area of the incursion, was registered as World Heritage Site.
Hun Sen added the border conflict can only be resolved when the Thai parliament approves agreements struck by the Thai and Cambodian foreign ministers and Thai armed forces are redeployed away from the areas of conflict.
Thaksin sent a letter Aug. 22 resigning as an adviser to the Cambodian government and to Hun Sen for what were described as personal reasons.
Hun Sen said Wednesday that despite his reservations on relations he is ready to meet with Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva at any upcoming international meetings the two will attend to seek a solution to the border dispute.
Thailand claims a 4.6 square-kilometer piece of land near the Preah Vihear Temple that lies inside Cambodia according to a 1962 ruling by the International Court of Justice.
But since the temple was listed as a World Heritage Site more than two years ago, Thai and Cambodian troops have faced off in the area and deadly skirmishes have erupted on several occasions.