CHINA has pledged to provide Yuan 300m ($US 44m) to Cambodia to support the project to upgrade the Phnom Penh - Poipet railway to a 160km/h standard-gauge electrified line.

The announcement was made during a meeting of Cambodian prime minister, Mr Hun Sen, and Chinese president, Mr Xi Jinping, on February 10 during the second day of Sen’s three-day visit to China, Cambodian media have reported.

Sen’s visit included several meetings aimed at encouraging Chinese support and investment in several key national infrastructure projects, including a comprehensive upgrade of the 382km metre-gauge railway.

China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) presented the preliminary results of a feasibility study to upgrade the line to support operation at up to 160km/h last month, estimating that work would cost $US 4bn.

The Cambodian government has since confirmed that it is seeking a build-operate-transfer agreement with China for the project in which the debt incurred would be repaid through revenue generated by the railway.

During their meeting on February 10, Xi was quoted as telling Sen that China would encourage Chinese businesses to invest in Cambodia and to support the construction of transport infrastructure.

On February 9, Sen met with representatives of CRBC as well as China Communications Construction Company, and China Metro Group, which confirmed their commitment to invest in the development of Cambodian infrastructure projects including the Phnom Penh - Poipet railway as well as a light rail line from Siem Reap, near the Ankor Wat Unesco World Heritage Site, to the new international airport under construction at Chickreng.

They also expressed interest in the feasibility study for the proposed metro in Phnom Penh, a city that suffers from chronic traffic congestion.

Nevertheless, analysts have expressed concern about Cambodia’s growing debt burden to China, with 41% of its $US 9.47bn of foreign debt now owed to this country.

Despite its relatively small size, Cambodia is considered an important diplomatic partner for China in East Asia. Sen was quoted as thanking China for providing Covid-19 vaccines and also expressed his opposition to “any external forces interfering in China’s internal affairs on issues related to Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and Tibet.”

The March edition of IRJ will include a report on Royal Railway, the operator of freight and passenger services in Cambodia.

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