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Belt and Road Initiative set to bring opportunity, but comes with risks

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The Belt and Road Initiative could offer good opportunities for Cambodia to achieve its development goal, but it is not without risks. Heng Chivoan

Belt and Road Initiative set to bring opportunity, but comes with risks

The China-backed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project could offer good opportunities for Cambodia to achieve its development goal, but comes with risks. The Kingdom must carefully study the two-sided story of the project, experts said on Tuesday in a dialogue hosted by the UN.

Talking at the dialogue on the BRI and Cambodia’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, University of Michigan associate professor Yuen Yuen Ang said involved parties are encouraged to talk and study the BRI in detail as the project will bring opportunities, but also problems.

“We hear a lot about the [BRI] contribution, but it will be also really great to hear about what is the problem that BRI has brought about,” she said.

According to Ang, Sihanoukville’s development should be an example about the two-sided story of Chinese development. Though people will see the rapid infrastructure growth and plentiful business opportunity brought by Chinese investment, a lot of casinos have been built there, which are creating social, waste-management and sanitation infrastructure problems.

“There are critical public services and infrastructures that need to be built ... but the infrastructure needed by the local residents are not being provided,” she said.

“In this particular situation, there is a very clear gap in infrastructure provided that is not beneficial versus infrastructure that is needed but not being provided.”

The UN in Cambodia has embarked on a research initiative to establish why and how both the BRI and the 2030 agenda for sustainable development are critical for realising Cambodia’s vision to become an upper-middle income country by 2030.

The research highlights that Cambodia’s economic success is closely linked to the performance of other economies in the region. The BRI provides several opportunities to sustain economic growth.

Supreme National Economic Council senior adviser Mey Kalyan said on Tuesday that having the BRI in place is important and whether the impact is negative or positive, it is incumbent on the Kingdom itself to react.

“It is not one [hand], but two [hands] have to go together in order to applaud,” he said. “Whether China offers opportunity or connectivity depends on our response.”

Ung Luyna, deputy director at the Ministry of Economy and Finance’s General Department of Budget, said there is a lot of common ground that Cambodia can take advantage of in the BRI project for Cambodia’s 2030 Agenda’s vision. However, he said the Kingdom has a lot of work needed to be done to see maximum benefits from the project.

“While the BRI has offered timely opportunities, Cambodia should have innovative policies and build robust institutions in order to maintain high growth and to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals [outlined in the 2030 Agenda],” he said.

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