C LOSED-DOOR discussions in the National Assembly reveal that the proposal to build a Chinese city, or the idea of allowing large numbers of moneyed Chinese into Cambodia is far from dead.
During the immigration law debate Second Prime Minister Hun Sen told the assembly members that the Royal Government wanted to retain ambiguous language in the law to allow it to attract investors and permanent residents from Hong Kong .
The final version of Article 28 was passed by a vote of 91 to 5. According to transcripts of the debate the wording was the following: "The family of all foreigners who get permission from CDC to invest in Cambodia shall be allowed to stay permanently or temporarily in Cambodia, as specified in the investment permit, and are entitled to hold a travel letter from Cambodia. The procedure of applying Article 28 will be defined by sub-decree."
Members of the Assembly debated the article for more than four hours. They asked that the language be clarified: "Is the travel letter a visa or a passport," one asked. "Will it be accepted by other countries?" "Does it give Cambodian nationality?"
Finally, Second Prime Minister Hun Sen spoke to the Assembly: "The government has canceled the plan to build a China town in Cambodia, so you must trust the government's intention."
Keat Chhon, deputy head of CDC, argued that the intervention by Hun Sen be considered as a special case, and that the article be accepted in spite of the doubts of some of the members. "Hun Sen has given his personal guarantee (assurance)," Chhon said.
Other Assembly members disputed whether such an assurance should be accepted.
According to Ahmad Yahya, the Second Prime Minister then asked for the TV cameras to be turned off.
Ahmad Yahya said: "Hun Sen told us that the government was looking ahead to 1997 when Hong Kong reverts to the control of [the People's Republic of China]. [Hun Sen] said that the government wanted to be able to attract investors with large amounts of capital from Hong Kong to live in Cambodia," Yahya said.
"He then asked us to go home and think about it. We voted on it the next day."
In July the Royal Government had rejected a proposal to create a 20 sq km Chinese city in Kandal Province. The plan envisaged the immigration of 200,000 ethnic Chinese to Cambodia. They would have been given permanent residence in Cambodia.
Ahmad Yahya said: "I voted against the article, because I think that when you make a law, you make a law for everyone, not just for Chinese investors."
"But I thought that the government was wrong to cancel the Chinese city proposal. I support it. When factories are established, Cambodian people can find employment. It will raise the standard of living for all of the people. But we want real Chinese, not the stupid Chinese, or the Chinese gangs."
Co-Interior Minister Sar Kheng told the assembly members that Article 28 had been added to the law at the Council of Ministers. "It was not part of the draft law when it left the Ministry of Interior."