Royal Cambodian Armed Forces chief of joint staff Hun Manet has said he disagrees that Preah Sihanouk province, where Chinese investment in hotels and casinos has skyrocketed, will become a second Macau.
Lieutenant General Manet made the comment on Monday during a ground-breaking ceremony for the construction of the Jing Gang Hotel in Sihanoukville, a hotbed of Chinese investment that has led to outrage from Cambodians that Chinese investors are turning the coastal province into their own playground.
Lt Gen Manet said that Sihanoukville should preserve its unique identity as a popular tourist destination and not turn into a second Macau, a casino destination.
“I agree to explore potential investments over the long term, but I do not agree to allow Sihanoukville to be like Macau,” he said. “Sihanoukville must become a city with its own unique identity.”
The increase of foreign investment, mostly from Chinese building hotels and casinos, has led to worry over an increase in crime in the province, which was addressed by Chinese Ambassador to Cambodia Xiong Bo last month.
Mr Bo assured Cambodians that China would cooperate with Cambodian authorities in punishing any of his countrymen committing crimes.
“China supports the Cambodian government to take action against any Chinese criminals according to the law,” he said. “We will continue to cooperate and coordinate with the Cambodian government and fight against all illegal activities.”
Since 2011 until October 2017, a total of 1,133 Chinese nationals, including 222 women, were deported to China for offences related to cybercrime.
Last year the province welcomed almost two million tourists, including 470,000 foreigners. Of the total number of foreign arrivals, nearly 120,000 were Chinese, an increase of 126 percent year-on-year.
In January, Preah Sihanouk provincial Governor Yun Min sent a report to Interior Minister Sar Kheng noting that the increase in Chinese investment had led to opportunities for Chinese mafia members to set up criminal networks and commit various crimes, including kidnapping.
The meteoric rise of tourist arrivals to the coastal areas of the country in recent years has brought large sums of money into the province’s economy. However, it has also attracted thousands of foreign investors and entrepreneurs competing with locals for their piece of the pie.
Particularly, the massive increase in Chinese businesses has got some local businessmen disgruntled. Many business operators, such as hotel and guesthouse owners, say their businesses have taken a hit.
In response to the concerns of increased crime and work being taken away from Cambodians by Chinese investors, the government last month agreed to create a joint-working group to enforce current legislation.
An urgent meeting of relevant authorities was convened in January, bringing together the provincial branches of the Ministry of Commerce, the Ministry of Tourism, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the General Department of Immigration, the Department of Labour and Vocational Training, and the General Department of Taxation, according to a press release by the Ministry of Commerce.
Sok Phal, director general of the Immigration Department, downplayed the issue yesterday, saying that there was no problem with the increase of Chinese in the city because the authorities were very strict in enforcing immigration laws and suppressing crimes.
“Interior Minister Sar Kheng has already established a plan,” he said. “We have to check and advise all foreigners to comply with Cambodian law.”
Mr Phal said some Chinese people caused disorder in public places, but it was a small number.
“Immigrants who come to work and stay illegally, our officials have already deported them,” he added. “We cannot look at 30 to 40 people who commit crimes and reflect that on another 50,000 to 60,000 people.”
San Chey, executive director of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability-Cambodia, said the presence of Chinese businesspeople in the province brought about developments, such as casinos, increased tax collection and increases in real estate prices and rents.
“We need to think about all this Chinese investment carefully,” he said. “It should be more balanced; it should not only be the Chinese investing in projects in the province, but other nationalities as well.”