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17 Mar, 2015

Japan to loan $160m for Phnom Penh-Thailand highway

Phnom Penh, 16 Mar 2015, KYODO NEWS – Japan will extend about US$160 million in low-interest loans to Cambodia to improve a major road, a move that would increase transportation capacity and efficiency in the Mekong region.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen on Sunday that Japan would make the 19.2-billion-yen loan for improvement of National Road No. 5 that runs between Phnom Penh and the Thai border. Together with the opening in April of a Japan-funded bridge spanning the Mekong River, the roadwork is expected to boost regional connectivity and stimulate economic development.

“By investing in such high-quality infrastructure, Japan would like to contribute to Cambodia’s efforts to significantly strengthen connectivity with neighbouring countries and achieve sustainable growth,” Mr Abe said in a meeting with Hun Sen in the northeastern Japan city, according to the Japanese Foreign Ministry.

The two leaders hailed the completion of the Tsubasa Bridge, a 2,200-metre suspension bridge in Neak Loeung, southeast of Phnom Penh, that locals say will remove a traffic bottleneck between the Cambodian capital and Ho Chi Minh City in southern Vietnam.

“The Tsubasa Bridge is an important bridge that connects Mekong countries,” Hun Sen was quoted by the ministry as saying, adding that he “appreciates Japan’s assistance for National Road No. 5”.

The road and the bridge, whose name means bird wings in Japanese, are part of the Southern Economic Corridor, a transportation route linking Ho Chi Minh City to Dawei in southeastern Myanmar via Bangkok. Governments and businesses expect it to serve as a major industrial artery in the Mekong region.

Japan has been promoting ties with Cambodia and other members of the Asean, where barriers to the flow of people, goods and money across the borders of its 10 member states will be lowered when a more integrated Asean Economic Community is launched at the end of this year.

In Sunday’s talks, Mr Abe and Hun Sen affirmed cooperation toward a July 4 summit in Tokyo between Japan and five Asean states along the Mekong River, at which the leaders are expected to craft a new strategy for Tokyo to contribute to sustainable development of the Mekong region beyond 2015.

Mr Abe and Hun Sen also expressed a mutual desire to begin direct flights between the two countries soon in line with a bilateral aviation agreement signed in January.

Japan inked bilateral aviation pacts with Cambodia and Laos in January to allow airlines to operate regular direct flights between Japan and those two countries. Tokyo now has such accords with all 10 Asean member states.

And with the number of Japanese companies investing in Cambodia tripling to about 150 in 2014 from the 2011 level, Mr Abe asked Hun Sen to take additional measures to improve investment conditions in the country.

Among major Japanese investments in Cambodia was the opening in Phnom Penh last June of a large shopping mall by Aeon Co, Japan’s largest operator of general merchandise stores.

On the political front, Mr Abe offered “maximum support” for electoral reform in Cambodia through measures such as the continued dispatch of experts. Hun Sen appreciated Japan’s support and said that in the wake of a recent agreement between the ruling and opposition parties, Cambodia plans to formulate a bill on elections.

Mr Abe requested Cambodia’s participation in an international seminar that Japan will host in June on peace-building, national reconciliation and democratisation in Asia.

Hun Sen was visiting Sendai for a UN meeting on disaster risk reduction. Speaking at the start of the five-day meeting Saturday, Mr Abe pledged $4 billion in aid for disaster-management measures in developing countries.