‘Preah Sihanouk province, in the next three years, whether safe or chaotic, will be under my control,” declared a Chinese man in a white T-shirt, as another 19 men stood behind him shirtless, in a video that went viral on social media last month.
After the Chinese men posted the video clip threatening to spark insecurity and take control of Sihanoukville, the Chinese embassy promised strong cooperation with the Cambodian police to arrest the 20 men. It was later reported that the man had left Cambodia.
On May 17, the Chinese embassy officially said the video was a prank made when the men were drunk.
China speaks highly of deepening Sino-Cambodia relations and of a regional strategic partnership.
However, Chinese authorities regrettably did not take any action to hold the 20 men accountable under Cambodian law, even though Cambodia indicated it wanted them to stand trial.
Threatening Cambodian national security is not acceptable and cannot be dismissed as a joke.
First of all, it violates Article 495 of the Cambodian Criminal Code.
The penalty for incitement to commit a felony is imprisonment ranging from six months to two years and a one million to four million riel ($250-$1,000) fine.
Secondly, it makes Cambodians incensed, but also frightened for their safety.
On May 6, another video showed a murdered Chinese man who was kicked out of a car in broad daylight in Sihanoukville.
This was such a brutal crime that locals began to be concerned for their safety, fearing Chinese nationals were becoming more aggressive and cruel in their community.
One Facebook account, Khem-SovanNarin, raised concerns for his safety: “Handcuff them and expel them from Cambodia. I am living in Preah Sihanouk province feeling fearful and insecure”.
It also shakes investor confidence in the country – who wants to invest in a disorderly society?
While Chinese investment is part of stimulating growth and development in Cambodia, Chinese nationals have committed a number of offences in the country, including assault, drug trafficking, illegal marriage, kidnapping and prostitution from massage parlours.
All of this has resulted in social disorder and unhappy locals.
On May 7, the Ministry of Interior reported that in the first three months of this year, at least 241 Chinese nationals had been detained, making them the most likely foreigners to commit crimes on Cambodian soil.
I agree in general that foreign aid and investment are vital for the economic development of Cambodia as a Least Developed Country.
Nonetheless, there is nothing more valuable than state sovereignty and national security.
Strong regulations and enforcement have served as a bulwark to safeguard peace against external interference.
It is therefore necessary to review the law and existing policies to tackle this issue.
Migration law and enforcement is the first thing to consider.
While Cambodian Migration Law was enacted in 1994, the number of foreigners, particularly from China, living and working in Cambodia has increased over the past few years.
The number of Chinese nationals living in Cambodia had increased to 210,000 by the end of 2018.
While more than 78,000 live in Sihanoukville, only about 20,000 have work permits.
This huge amount of illegal immigration indicates that local authorities have not actively tackled the issue.
Immigration police and inspection teams need to do more work along the border to prevent and reduce illegal crossings.
Those who committed felony crimes such as murder, kidnapping and robbery – after serving jail terms in Cambodia – should be sent back to their home country.
It would send the message to Chinese nationals and other foreigners to obey Cambodian law if they want to remain in the Kingdom.
Otherwise, they will be deported back to their own country.
To do this, it also requires the support and commitment of the Chinese government to receive their errant nationals.
Engaging in cooperation with China is consistent diplomatic thinking to improve Sino-Cambodian relations and serve mutual national interest.
In the past, the authorities have been seen as being slow in preventing crimes by Chinese nationals. However, it is not too late to begin working diligently to reduce the crime rate.
Seeking the arrest of the Chinese gang would explicitly demonstrate efforts by the Cambodian police to protect national dignity and security.
Threatening Cambodian national security is not acceptable and cannot be considered a joke.
The Chinese government should take action to arrest anyone doing so and extradite them to Cambodia to stand trial.
Iem Bunhy is a Young Fellow at Future Forum, an independent Cambodia-based public policy think tank.
Currently, he is conducting a research project on the security implications of Chinese investment in Cambodia’s coastal provinces.