The Tsubasa Bridge and New 500 Banknote

I have a great pleasure today to join with HE Kazuyuki NAKANE, parliamentary Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, on this auspicious occasion to cast concrete for final connection of the Bridge of Neak Loeung of 2,215 meters considered as the longest bridge in the country. Before going further, I would like to affirm two things.

Firstly, according to the agreement discussed thoroughly between the Cambodian and Japanese sides, the Japanese friend requested that the bridge is named Tsubasa. HE Nakane already explained the meaning of this Japanese word Tsubasa, especially when it is used to name the cable suspension bridge of Neak Loeung that looks like two yellow birds stretching their wings in holding hands. This should represent the meaning that the cooperation between the two countries – Cambodia and Japan will fly to a brilliant future cooperation. On this note, I would like to officially declare the bridge at Neak Loeung – the Tsubasa Bridge.

Secondly, to show the bond of friendship and cooperation between the Kingdom of Cambodia and Japan, the Royal Government of Cambodia has issued and put into circulation the new 500 banknote with today’s sub-decree. The new banknote carries on one side the picture of HM the King of Cambodia, Norodom Sihamoni and on the other side the two Japanese built bridges – Kizuna at Kompong Cham province, and Tsubasa connecting Kandal and Prey Veng provinces. This is a great meaningful day as it falls on the 60th anniversary of the establishment of relation between Cambodia and Japan.

We will depend on HE Nakane to deliver the new banknote to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and a number of our Japanese friends. The banknote is in circulation today. The Japanese tourists may want to carry some back to Japan this memorable banknote depicting Cambodia-Japan relation and friendship.

Connecting the Bridge and Cambodia-Japan’s 60th Anniversary

I am so happy that we are to connect the bridge of Neak Loeung today. I am sure the bridge is carrying very important meaning, especially when it is finally happening at the time when Cambodia and Japan are celebrating the 60th anniversary of the two countries’ relation. It is also encouraging that the bridge itself will be open for traffic prior to the celebration of Khmer New Year of 2015 as scheduled.

HE Tram Iv Toeuk already raised this issue relating to traffic congestion along this road with limited capacity of the ferry, especially in time of holidays, when people have had to wait for hours. This adds up to the concern for any health emergency situation that people need to cross from the eastern side of the river to the western side (to go to hospital in Phnom Penh). Once the bridge is built, the ferry will also finish its job here by April. We had done that also in Kompong Cham, because we have the Kizuna bridge over there, at Prek Tamak, at Prek Kadam, etc.

I may raise three requests, though, concerning the use of the bridge – (1) please do not use the bridge’s height to commit suicide (2) do not overload your truck to run over this bridge and do not go beyond speed limit to refrain from causing accident. Once the bridge is built, our people will have no concern about being stuck in crossing the river. Your concern is also that of the Royal Government. Every time you are going to cross this bridge, please take it that the Royal Government of Cambodia and the Government of Japan are paying for you. That is the benefit of infrastructural development policy that the Royal Government is striving to achieve with either own fund or foreign assistance to make them happen on this land.

Background Facts on the Bridge of Neak Loeung

There was a time when I told our Japanese friend that I dare not mention about the bridge at Neak Loeung anymore because the people of Kandal and Prey Veng provinces were waiting for it and talking about it when it was not happening would put me in difficult situation. I did talk many times about the construction of the bridge at Neak Loeung, but for many reasons it did not seem to happen any fast. I explained to our people of the cause of prolongation. There was then a bridge built by the Japanese assistance went breaking in Vietnam. That had called for serious study of our project.

Some politicians in Cambodia said the Japanese would not give the bridge since the Royal Government of Cambodia was not good enough. I then talked to the Japanese friends that I dare not mention about Neak Loeung Bridge to the people. One other influential factor is that this bridge is a part of the ASEAN Highway. I then proposed four choices to the Government of Japan and I wish to mention it here again. Firstly, requesting grant from Japan to build the bridge; secondly, the bridge should be built partly by assistance and partly by loan; thirdly, requesting loan from Japan to build it; and fourthly, a part of the cost is to be covered by Cambodia’s counterpart fund.

There was this option number 5 that I discussed with HE Keat Chhon and HE Aun Porn Monirath. We were thinking of building it with our own fund if Japan were not able to respond to the request. Our intention was that ambitious. We were thinking of investing in steps like 20 million USD per year and it could take us 80 million USD to do the job. Later, HE Fumiaki TAKAHASHI, Ambassador of Japan, told me to propose only one form of assistance – grant aid. I was so happy. I worked with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan on this bridge of Neak Loeung. In times of Prime Ministers (Ryutaro) Hashimoto and (Keizo) Obuchi, we worked on the construction of the Kizuna Bridge in Kompong Cham.

In 1998, may I recall, in his New Year message, Prime Minister (Ryutaro) Hashimoto talked about reducing assistance to foreign countries. I was so concerned. I proposed to my Japanese counterpart not to implement that policy with Cambodia owing to its unique condition of destruction by war and the genocide. For instance, in this area, the war between 1970 and 1975 was a cruel one. Neak Loeung was then called the second Saigon. The Nguyen Van Thieu’s army occupied Neak Loeung as their base. There was a time that the US B52 accidentally bombed it causing death and casualties to armies of both Nguyen Van Thieu and the Lon Nol regime. That was why, though the area for the bridge’s construction was inspected and UXOs removed by the military engineering team, in the course of working on foundation, there was an explosion. We then called in CMAC to work on it again. We are lucky that our Japanese friend offers us this bridge.

HE Nakane declares today that the construction of the bridge costs 127 million USD compared to 95 million USD from early discussion with counterpart fund of 2.9 million USD from the Royal Government of Cambodia. The reason is Japan offers its assistance to us in Yen. Now the Yen gains its value as high as 70 Yen to one USD. That has caused difficulty to Japanese economy too. So, we have to take this figure. I wish the people understand this. When politicians say the Royal Government is making improper use of Japanese assistance, I must tell you I only come for the groundbreaking and connecting ceremonies only. As for how the money was spent, it is up to the Japanese Government. We must be clear on this issue.

In addition to the bridge, Japan has also assisted in building the National Road 1, which, linking with the National Road 5, will link up three major cities – Bangkok, Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh. In 2015, I will visit Japan twice – in March to participate in the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture and in July for the seventh Japan-Mekong Summit. As you can see the Japanese assistance is not for Cambodia alone but also in the framework of the Greater Mekong Sub-region and ASEAN Highway framework.

According to planned the bridge will be officially inaugurated before the coming Khmer New Year. It should help relieve traffics congestion when our people working in factories in Phnom Penh travel to their home provinces of Svay Rieng, Prey Veng, etc. I hope that this year young people on east and west sides of the Mekong at Neak Loeung can go see each other without having to wait for the ferry. On that note, I would suggest the inauguration date to be fixed anytime before April 12 as I would be in South Korea for the Water Forum. I may suggest an idea, as this is the Japanese-built bridge maybe it is a good idea to use Japanese motorbikes to cross the bridge on that day. I will drive the motorbike myself.

Thirty Years of Premiership

I wish to recall that about this time thirty years ago, then National Assembly voted me to take the post of Prime Minister. It is the 30th anniversary of the Premiership of Hun Sen. today. Various newspapers see this differently, some saw it all dark and some saw both good and bad. I thank them all. However, let us all look back in our recent history between 1979 and 1986 when Hun Sen was Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and from 1985, when I became Prime Minister. It is true that there are both quality and shortcomings.

When Hun Sen became Prime Minister, the war continued to tear this country. If I was not committed for peace, there could not be this Paris Peace Agreement. Without it, we would continue to fight until today. Talking about win-win policy which ended the war and reunited the country, who did it? It was Hun Sen. I assured my late mom and aunt that if I were to get killed by going into the Khmer Rouge stronghold to convince them, only a few of us died. However, if I were to survive, the whole country would. UNTAC (United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia) spent up to two billion USD but failed to end the war. UNTAC’s head Yasushi Akashi, a Japanese national, could not even enter the Khmer Rouge stronghold at Pailin. I took it back and Khmer unite and rebuild the country.

In 1985, all land belonged to the state. I led the agrarian reform returning land to the people. Everyone has got his/her own plot of land. In 1979, we had solidarity group as core of our economy, after the liberation of Cambodia from Pol Pot. Everyone came out barehanded. Some got cooking pot but no plates. Some got oxen but no carts, etc. Some years later, the situation had changed. We had to give back land to people. These are facts and I am not talking to prove me good. Take for instance, this bridge that we celebrate the connection ceremony today, who filed the request to Japan? If the person were to pursue anti-Japan policy, would Japan offer to help?

It is true that there are good and bad things but between the two, one must balance between wrong and right. If the leadership was wrong, we would not have peaceful meeting here today. On my way here I read the news and some, Human Rights Watch Brad Adam so to speak, had expressed very negative thought that nothing was right. Yesterday I got a SMS from Puy Kea, working with Kyodo, asking if January 14 that I come here was chosen to connect the bridge to celebrate the 30th anniversary of my Premiership. It is not so. I was not aware of it until I met with the former co-chairman of the Paris Conference yesterday. I did not pick the day because of that, I told Puy Kea, but according to the Khmer norm on good and bad days.

I do not celebrate the event though it is rare to stay in power for thirty years. As for present, I may stay at least till 2018 and it will be up to the people to decide. I started young and I am not very old now compared to those who wish to become Prime Minister, some are even older than I am. As incumbent Prime Minister, I am younger than other candidates.

I wish to express my sincere thank to the people and government of Japan for providing this grant aid for the construction of the Neak Loeung bridge. I wish the finishing touch of the construction goes smoothly and all workers in the project successfully completion of this marvel for the people of Cambodia. Taking this opportunity I would call for further promotion of the bond of friendship between Cambodia and Japan, which has already entered its strategic partnership stage. Tomorrow HE Kazuyuki NAKANE will sign an Aviation Agreement with the Secretary of State of the Civil Aviation of Cambodia, which I am sure will further expedite relation between the two countries./.