SAM Rainsy, president of the illegal Cambodia National Rescue Movement, is misleading the world and discrediting Cambodia for its fast development. He is carrying out an anti-China campaign in order to damage the image of China as well as to challenge the legitimacy of the Cambodian government, which has cemented close ties with Beijing. Mr Rainsy is not consistent and does not respect his own words. In his interview with Phoenix Television in 2014, he said, “CNRP is ally of China”. He even firmly expressed his support of “China’s assertion of sovereignty” over the South China Sea and claimed that “CNRP stands with China”.
China is not a threat to Cambodia and the region. The rising power of China has benefited and will continue to generate opportunities for the whole region. Cambodia has an advantage in seizing the opportunities due to the political trust it has garnered and its geographical proximity to the economic center of the world. Some concerns over the increasing economic presence and influence of China in Cambodia are legitimate. However we need to understand that many Chinese investment projects generate job opportunities and incomes for our people. For instance, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) proposed by China in 2013 is a new catalyst of global growth. BRI is an inter-continental economic venue for more than 60 countries to cooperate and connect.
Mr Rainsy has raised concern over the debt service issue. Let’s apply statistics here. Cambodia’s debt to GDP ratio remains low at 37 percent in 2017 – it is below the average ratio for a developing country that is at 40 percent. From 1996 to 2017, the debt to GDP ratio was at 35 percent. We should not be too much worried that about the fact that 60 percent of Cambodia’s debt is owed to China. This is due to the economic size of China. Such debt would not make Cambodia to become a “province of China” but instead will strengthen the complex interdependence between both countries. China has more stakes in Cambodia. Both countries and people will benefit from a high-stakes bilateral partnership. Historically, China does not pose any threat to Cambodia.
There is no strong scientific proof that indicates Chinese investments adversely affect Cambodia’s ecological balance. Concerning the hydroelectric power plants, the benefits overweight the costs. Cambodia needs cheap electric power supply to accelerate economic growth and of course it needs to compromise a certain degree of environmental cost. Environmental and social impact assessments were carried out before constructing the dams. The cost of electricity has continually dropped to less than 20 cents per KWH.
Energy security is critical for the development of Cambodia and China is also the main producer of solar panels. Future cooperation on solar energy will help diversify the sources of energy of Cambodia.
Chinese investments in Cambodia concentrate on labor-intensive industries particularly the garment industry which provides about one million jobs to Cambodian workers. The current minimum wage is $170 per month. If a worker wishes to work overtime then he/she will earn nearly $300 per month. This salary is relatively higher than that of Laos, Myanmar and Bangladesh. China has started investing more in the semi-skilled and skilled manufacturing sectors. Technology and knowledge transfer is taking place, although at a slow speed.
China has a great source of knowledge to transfer to Cambodia as it is pursuing an innovation-led development model.
Chinese aid has significantly contributed to the improvement of the living standard of the local people. For instance, early this year China pledged to provide 100 Cambodian children who have congenital heart disease with free surgery in three years in a programme called “China-Cambodia Love Heart Journey”. Also every year, China provides about 200 scholarships to Cambodian students to pursue their higher education in China.
Cambodians should not be afraid of the rising economic presence and influence of China. They need to adapt and explore ways to grasp the opportunities stemming from China’s economic powerhouse. Of course to optimize the benefits from China – either through development assistance or trade and investment – Cambodia needs to strengthen its governance and capacity. Both the public and private sectors in Cambodia need to enhance their capacity to better grasp the opportunities generated by China, particularly under the new initiatives such as Belt and Road Initiative and Mekong-Lancang Cooperation.
Suos Yara is a Member of Parliament of Cambodia.