Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday slammed critics over claims that China is “invading” Cambodia, calling the argument “crazy”.
Speaking to members of Cambodian diaspora in Geneva, Switzerland, Hun Sen said some people were concerned about the influx of Chinese nationals who live and work in the Kingdom, particularly in Preah Sihanouk province.
He argued that the Chinese are in Cambodia to “fill the gap in the Kingdom’s construction labour market”.
“There are a lot of construction projects [in Cambodia], but we don’t have enough skilled workers, therefore we have to bring [the Chinese] in to build our bridges and help with many other projects."
“When they finish their work, they will return to their home country. So don’t question … we don’t have any law that allows them to stay, after all,” said Hun Sen.
He said last year, there were about 1.2 million Chinese tourists in Cambodia. This year that number can grow to 1.5 million.
“And talking about China invading Cambodia … isn’t there Chinatown in France? Yes! Chinatown in the US? Yes! Even Cambodia has no Chinatown,” he said.
Hun Sen said some former opposition politicians had severely criticised the influx of the Chinese as they believed they [the Chinese] always committed various crimes, and that they pose serious risks to the Kingdom.
But he argued: “When [the Chinese] don’t come to invest, [the opposition] would talk. When they come to invest, [the opposition] say they came to invade Cambodia … What’s wrong with these people? Crazy!
“We are a sovereign state. China has never even sent their troops beyond their borders. How many times have other countries sent their troops to invade Cambodia?”
The Ministry of Interior’s General Department of Immigration director-general Sok Phal has said that, currently, there are about 210,000 Chinese nationals living in Cambodia.
Of the number, over 70,000 live in Preah Sihanouk province alone.
Affiliated Network for Social Accountability executive director San Chey said the government must strictly enforce immigration laws following the increase of various crimes “committed by Chinese nationals”.
“If the government prevents and controls the Chinese properly, then people wouldn’t be so worried,” he said.
Chey said the influx of Chinese workers takes away benefits from Cambodia’s labour force.
The country’s workers, he argued, would lose employment opportunities which will result in Cambodians emigrating to other countries to find work.