The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is an ambitious international cooperation and connectivity project initiated by China in 2013. Cambodia is one of the staunchest supporters of the initiative with the expectation that BRI will contribute to peace and shared prosperity. As a small and open economy, Cambodia is committed to building an open and inclusive international system.
The second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation will take place in late April this year to further expand and deepen international collaborations and partnerships based on the spirit of peace, cooperation, openness, transparency, inclusiveness, equality, mutual learning, mutual benefit and mutual respect by strengthening cooperation on the basis of extensive consultation and the rule of law, joint efforts, shared benefits and equal opportunities for all.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen will lead a big delegate consisting of deputy prime ministers, ministers and other senior leaders to attend the forum in Beijing. Cambodian leaders will also have a number of bilateral meetings with some key Chinese business leaders who are interested in investing in Cambodia. BRI is a key framework, or even a catalyst, to encourage and facilitate the investment inflow from China to the Kingdom.
In the joint statement of the first forum, the leaders stressed of forging joint endeavour on BRI and urged to build synergy between BRI with other connectivity initiatives. From the Cambodian perspective, building synergy between BRI with the five-year development plan, called Rectangular Development Strategy, is the priority of bilateral cooperation between Cambodia and China.
The Rectangular Development Strategy Phase IV prioritises four pillars namely human resource development, economic diversification, private sector and job development, and inclusive and sustainable development. At the core of the four pillars is the acceleration of the governance reform, which refers to institutional reform and capacity building, strengthening accountability and integrity in the public administration, strengthening of work effectiveness, and strengthening of private sector governance.
Under the BRI cooperation framework, China should further align BRI with key development areas of Cambodia. So far, Chinese development assistance and investment projects concentrate on hard infrastructure and labour-intensive industry. Both countries need to expand their areas of cooperation to include human resource development, digital economy and sustainable development.
The Chinese companies and factories should build vocational training centres or schools to build and transfer skills to local workers. Due to lack of local skilled labour forces, most of Chinese companies choose to bring Chinese workers, which costs more than hiring local workers. Chinese companies should also provide on-the-job training to build the capacity of local workers in order to improve productivity. In this regards, Chinese companies can learn a great deal from Japanese companies in terms of skills development and knowledge transfer.
Digital economy is the future economic sector of Cambodia. The key challenges facing Cambodia to realise a full-fledged digital economy are the lack of human resources and digital infrastructure, and the lack of public and private investment in innovation and entrepreneurship. Mega Chinese private companies like Huawei and Alibaba could help Cambodia to build the necessary infrastructure and human capital to help the Kingdom fully harness digital economy and the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
In terms of inclusive and sustainable development, China and Cambodia should work closely together to link BRI with the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the National Sustainable Development Goals. Chinese investments need to further link with rural development and poverty reduction. Some investment projects relating to land grabbing, serious environmental degradation, and socio-economic exclusion need to be reviewed. Environmental and social impact assessment needs to be seriously conducted before deciding on investment or development projects.
The success of BRI depends very much on the quality of the projects and the perception and participation of the local community. Both countries still need to double their efforts to ensure that development projects under BRI really benefit the local people. People-centred development approach should be at the core of BRI and Cambodia-China partnership.
Suos Yara is Member of Parliament from Cambodia.