Malaysia calls for enhanced connectivity with Cambodia

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Bassaka Air currently operates flights to Siem Reap, Macau and soon Kuala Lumpur. Supplied

Malaysia plans to expand its connectivity with the kingdom, particularly air travel, a high-ranking Malaysian official said on the weekend.

In an interview with Khmer Times on Saturday, Malaysia’s Deputy Transport Minister Datuk Aziz Kaprawi said he hopes to see more Cambodian airlines flying to Malaysia, as it would increase the number of travellers visiting the Southeast Asian economic powerhouse.

“More flights means more passengers and better connectivity. It will strengthen the relationship between Malaysia and Cambodia as Kuala Lumpur is viewed as an icon in Asean,” Mr Kaprawi said.

“The fact that by the end of January there would be four airlines operating between Phnom Penh and Kuala Lumpur is a very positive indication of the growth of travellers between the two destinations as well as the Asean region as a whole.

“Malaysia is a tourist destination and so is Cambodia, with its many heritage sites and cultural venues which attract millions each year. Thus, additional flights by other airlines can only benefit both countries in promoting tourism and trade.”

Mr Kaprawi said the new Bassaka Air flight connecting Phnom Penh and Kuala Lumpur, which launches on January 31, was a significant step in boosting connectivity between both nations and suggested the air carrier explores the possibility of flying to other locations in Malaysia, for example, Penang.

“If a fifth freedom flight agreement could be worked with reciprocal rights for Malaysian airlines, the travel sector between Malaysia and Phnom Penh will be more attractive and even more convenient for travellers, not just tourists but also businessmen.

“For Bassaka Air, I am confident that they will do well as I am sure they have done their studies and will probably cater to a niche market in addition to other travellers,” he said.

With four companies now covering the Phnom Penh-Kuala Lumpur route, airlines, especially those based in Cambodia like Bassaka, should look into tour packages and other incentives to attract more travellers, he said.

Malaysia’s Deputy Transport Minister Datuk Aziz Kaprawi during an interview with Khmer Times. Supplied

Bassaka Air, he added, should also consider entering codeshare agreements and other forms of cooperation with regional airlines as well as acting as a feeder airline for destinations within the kingdom that are not served by large carriers.

Regarding sea freight, the Malaysian deputy minister said he was studying the possibility of upgrading the eastern Malaysian seaport of Kuantan with direct shipping routes to Sihanoukville, arguing that this would be the shortest route between both nations.

Mr Kaprawi also said railroads may in the near future help bring Malaysia and Cambodia together. He said Malaysia’s railway network continues to expand, with Thailand taking advantage of Malaysia’s railroads to send cargo to Port Klang.

“Large sea-going vessels do not go to Bangkok Port because of technical issues, such as water depth and existing facilities,” he said. “Malaysian ports, on the other hand, can accommodate giant vessels which can then transship to feeder vessels to serve ports where large vessels cannot dock, either because of a lack of facilities, narrow channels or insufficient water depth.”

In the future, with further expansion of China’s One Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), rail connectivity between Cambodia and Malaysia will be a possibility. The railway section in Thailand could be easily linked to the existing railroad systems in Malaysia, Cambodia and possibly even Laos, Mr Kaprawi added.

He said Malaysia was trying to find synergies in all forms of transportation with land-linked countries, hoping to capitalise on the different projects in the region that China has initiated as part of the BRI.

“I can see possibilities for a collaboration between the port of Sihanoukville and Port Klang. It will help facilitate economic activity and freight movement between the two countries.

“Many Chinese ports collaborate with Malaysian ports as vessels from China have to use the Straits of Malacca,” he said. “Cambodia can act as a back-up, being a feeder port for these giant vessels headed to bigger ports.”

He added that just as air connectivity between Cambodia and Malaysia has improved tremendously in the past few years, linkages between both nations based on other modes of transport will surely improve in the near future.

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