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Preah Sihanouk governor bemoans Chinese influx

Traffic passes in front of a casino and hotel complex in Sihanoukville last year.
Traffic passes in front of a casino and hotel complex in Sihanoukville last year. Sahiba Chawdhary

Preah Sihanouk governor bemoans Chinese influx

The governor of Preah Sihanouk province has outlined grievances ranging from increased criminality to economic disadvantages for Cambodians as a result of the rapid increase in Chinese investment and tourism in the province in a three-page report to Interior Minister Sar Kheng.

The document, which was signed on Wednesday by Governor Yun Min and obtained yesterday, noted that the highest number of foreigners requesting work permits in the province hailed from China, numbering 4,498 out of a total of 6,485 in the past year.

While noting “positive” elements of the foreign presence in Preah Sihanouk – such as increases in land prices, employment opportunities for locals and the development of hotels, casinos and restaurants serving Chinese tourists – the report also notes that “there are negative points”.

“It provides the chance for Chinese who are part of the mafia to do criminal [activities] and kidnap the Chinese investors and create an insecure environment in the province,” the report reads.

The report also says the construction sector is oversaturated with foreign workers, and small businesses run by foreigners out-compete locally owned businesses. The rise in home-rental prices has also negatively impacted the living standards of civil servants, among others, it notes. Among the grievances are concerns for public order. “Some foreigners are drunk and have conflicts, then fight each other in the restaurants and also in public”.

Others relate to matters such as signage not being in the Khmer language, or foreigners working without permits or driving without licences.

It also bemoans that Chinese-operated hotels and restaurants serve exclusively Chinese tourists, and are unavailable to local or other tourists during national holidays.

The concerns outlined in the report reflect those expressed to The Post last month for an in-depth look at the growing Chinese presence in the tourism hotspot. In comments made at the time, Major General Kul Phaly, deputy commissioner of the Preah Sihanouk Provincial Police, admitted that money laundering, illegal casino operations and human trafficking have become acute concerns.

The exterior of the Jin Bei Casino in Sihanoukville at night.
The exterior of the Jin Bei Casino in Sihanoukville at night. Kali Kotoski

Businesspeople and officials in the province also described a closed economic loop in which Chinese employees are shipped in to run businesses catering to Chinese tourists and owned by Chinese businesspeople, cutting locals off from the opportunities afforded by the recent boom.

In the first nine months of 2017, Chinese arrivals to Preah Sihanouk rose 170 percent, standing just shy of 88,000.

In recent years, China has emerged as Cambodia’s largest donor and most stalwart supporter as the Kingdom pivots away from traditional Western sources of aid – and the calls for democratisation and respect for human rights that come with it. In the face of near-universal condemnation of the Cambodian government’s crackdown on the main opposition party last year, China was one of the only countries to publicly offer its support for the measure.

Seemingly sensitive to this, Governor Min’s final critique in his report was that the large Chinese presence gives fuel to “opponents and some mischievous people to raise the topic to discuss, to attack and [negatively] affect the relationship of Cambodia-China”.

To rectify the situation, the governor called upon relevant departments to check work permits and collect statistics on foreign businesses. Provincial authorities, including the governor, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak yesterday said he had read the letter and the ministry has examined the issues raised. Sopheak said Minister Sar Kheng will issue a response at an annual meeting in Sihanoukville on Thursday. “He will instruct officials, and we will see,” he said.

Additional reporting by Kuoch Masy

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