Cambodia will not follow in other countries’ footsteps in imposing any additional restrictions towards arrivals from mainland China, amid concerns that soaring Covid-19 cases there could drive the emergence of new and potentially more dangerous variants of the novel coronavirus, Prime Minister Hun Sen affirmed on January 2.

This comes as China moves to reopen to inbound and outbound tourism on January 8, while the Kingdom plans to capture pent-up travel demand, welcoming an estimated two million mainland Chinese visitors this year, according to the premier.

This would come near the all-time annual record of almost 2.362 million tallied in 2019, which was up 16.67 per cent from the 2.024 million logged a year earlier, according to the Ministry of Tourism.

Hun Sen was speaking at a groundbreaking ceremony for a Mekong River bridge and connecting road in Kratie province that are due to be built in part with a concessional loan from the Chinese government.

“We’ve all seen the unfortunate but frightening propaganda about the Covid-19 epidemic in China. Those who will be strict when it comes to China, let them do so since that’d just benefit Cambodia,” he said.

“Let’s say that [a Chinese traveller] wants to go to some country, but it requires Chinese people to do this or that. Cambodia won’t have such requirements,” the premier explained, issuing an invitation for mainlanders to “come travel [to the Kingdom] as per normal”.

“If any country wants to do anything [in terms of additional Covid restrictions for arrivals from mainland China], they have the right to do so. But Cambodia will instead invite the Chinese over,” he stressed.

He suggested that Thailand and Singapore would also hold back from imposing Covid restrictions on travellers from mainland China, “benefiting a lot” for doing so, and remaining “more attractive and convenient destinations” for them.

Although remarking that the agricultural, industrial and non-tourism service sectors have shown steady growth despite global economic pressures, Hun Sen underscored that greater numbers of Chinese tourists would spur near-term and longer-term growth in the Cambodian economy.

Painting a broader picture, the premier opined that “four-to-five million” international arrivals in 2023 could translate to a meaningful all-round boost for the economy, estimating the 2022 figure at about 2.2 million, echoing an earlier prediction made by the tourism ministry.

At any rate, he called on Cambodians to get vaccinated against Covid-19 as instructed by the Ministry of Health.

In an interview with The Post on January 2, former Cambodia Chinese Tour Guide Association president Tea Kileng expressed delight at Beijing’s reopening to tourism and the local government’s decision not to impose Covid restrictions on arriving mainlanders.

Before Covid hit, Chinese tourism created tonnes of jobs and income for the local industry, and greatly raised the profile of the Kingdom’s ancient temples and other historical tourist sites on the international scene, he claimed.

“Despite the news that the Covid-19 pandemic is re-emerging in China, we’re still elated for them to visit Cambodia, taking into account that all members of our association have been vaccinated against Covid-19,” he said.

Pacific Asia Travel Association Cambodia Chapter chairman Thourn Sinan described Chinese travellers collectively as a key recovery engine for the local industry, and reasoned that Hun Sen’s announcement could catalyse additional tourism and investment inflows from the mainland.

“Chinese tourists can be considered strategic visitors, with their numbers a dominant promoter of tourism in Cambodia, as well as many other countries,” he said.

Cambodia welcomed more than 1.914 million international visitors in the first 11 months of 2022, down 67.55 per cent compared to the same period of record-breaking 2019, according to the tourism ministry. Mainland China accounted for 90,648, down 95.84 per cent from the same time in 2019.