Prime Minister Hun Sen defended Chinese support and investment in Cambodia on Monday at the inauguration of an overpass in Phnom Penh, hailing the two nations’ “partnership in comprehensive strategies”.
During the inauguration of the Dey Hoy Sky Bridge in the capital’s Sen Sok district, which cost an estimated $17 million and was funded by China, Hun Sen praised the relationship between the two countries.
The prime minister said Cambodia, like other Asean nations, had gained greatly from China’s efforts to increase trade.
He said Asean had benefited from the region’s export of goods to the Chinese market, which outweighed the import of Chinese goods into Asean.
Hun Sen said since 2010 Cambodia and China had been partners in “comprehensive strategies”. Chinese President Xi Jinping said on a state visit in 2016 that his nation’s relationship with Cambodia is a “steel friendship”.
The prime minister hit out at the hypocrisy of certain countries which criticised Chinese investment in Cambodia while at the same time negotiating for it.
“These countries are dying to do business with China, so why are they prohibiting Cambodia from doing so? What are the reasons? Countries in Europe are flying to Beijing to negotiate with China to import goods, to invest and do business with that country."
Hun Sen also defended the presence of the Chinese working in Cambodia, saying they were in the Kingdom because it was not yet able to supply enough skilled workers to meet demand.
“On the presence of Chinese workers in our country … please don’t be misinformed – this is the result of the hundreds of construction sites throughout Cambodia. We don’t have sufficient skilled labour to provide for all the Chinese projects, so they are necessary."
“For example, in the construction of a bridge, there is the need for [skilled] Chinese technicians to work side by side with Cambodian workers. We do not have enough skilled workers for the hundreds of Chinese construction sites, both state-owned and private.”
Hen Sen also pointed to the influx of Chinese tourists to Cambodia over the past year as bringing economic benefits. “Last year over one million Chinese tourists came to Cambodia, bringing money into the Kingdom,” he said.
According to figures from the Ministry of Tourism, in 2017, Cambodia received 5.6 million tourists, including 1,210,782 Chinese who brought $3.638 million in revenue into the national economy and contributed 13 percent to the gross domestic product.
In the first four months of this year, Cambodia received 647,352 Chinese visitors – up 79.4 percent, the figures reveal.
The prime minister’s words coincided with yesterday’s launch of a book, written by CPP lawmaker Sous Yara and author Kem Rothviseth, praising China’s Belt and Road Initiative in the development of Cambodia.
Belt and Road Initiative and Cambodia’s Development, available in both Khmer and English, was written to mark this year’s 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Chheang Vannarith, the co-founder and vice-chairman of the Cambodian Institute for Strategic Studies, who was a speaker at the book launch in Phnom Penh, said political trust, economic interests, and strategic convergence are the foundation of Cambodia-China relations.
He said Cambodia held a similar worldview to China, in which a multi-polar world order is being formed with China as one of the global powers.
He said China’s economic presence in Cambodia “contributes remarkably to the legitimacy of the CPP-led government, such as with increasing infrastructure development and employment opportunities”.
But he also said China should improve its image by paying more attention to the legitimate concerns and interests of the local community. He did not give examples, however.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said being close to China would also present negative impacts on Cambodia.
“Strengthening ties with China will increase our prime minister’s anti-American stance and erode democracy, the respect for human rights and the observance of the rule of law in a free society."
“Cambodia’s subservience to China will hasten that country’s colonisation of the Kingdom, with Chinese settlers and the planting of Chinese companies employing its nationals,” he said.
He expressed doubts as to the necessity of all the Chinese workers currently in the Kingdom. “I have seen Chinese construction workers who are not necessarily highly skilled and are taking jobs from Cambodians.
“And who knows if they will return home after their contracts end,” Mong Hay said.