Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday lashed out at critics over accusations that the influx of Chinese nationals and investments in Preah Sihanouk province in recent years is a “debt trap” and a form of colonisation.
Speaking to reporters at the site of a deadly Chinese-owned building collapse in the province, Mr Hun Sen said that Chinese investments help develop the Kingdom.
“I have already heard the accusation many times that China has come to colonise [the Kingdom] through its investments but I wish to clarify to all of you that now the world needs Chinese investments in their countries,” Mr Hun Sen said. “We are lucky; we attract Chinese investors to our country.”
In February, Preah Sihanouk provincial administration reported that there are more than 70,000 Chinese businessmen or tourists in the city, noting that they are having a positive influence on the economy.
Sihanoukville also has become an epicentre of Chinese investments in the past few years, with dozens of hotel and resort complexes in the city.
Mr Hun Sen called on critics to stop making accusations against Chinese nationals and investments in Sihanoukville.
“Those who do not want our country to develop say that ‘it is China’s debt trap and it is colonisation by China’ but I wish to clarify that people in Sihanoukville gain benefits from the investments,” he said. “During construction roads do get damaged but when the construction is completed, Sihanoukville will become a big city and it is not like what they think.”
The premier said that criticism over the influx of Chinese in Sihanoukvile is a political stunt by some opposition leaders to smear the government.
“This problem [the building collapse] is being used as a political tool by an opposition group,” Mr Hun Sen said. “Whether it is a Chinese, American, British or French investment and an accident happens, they will still politicise the issue.”
“We need to encourage more investors to come to Cambodia but they need to follow Cambodian laws,” he added.
Wang Tianxiang, deputy director of the Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry’s Division of Southeast Asian Affairs, said earlier this month that the influx of Chinese in Sihanoukville has been discussed among officials from both countries.
“We have talked about this; when a lot of Chinese people flood the country, there might be some problems,” Mr Wang said during an interview in Beijing. “China and Cambodia have a close relationship, so that is why we have many businessmen and tourists coming to your country.”
Chen Feng, a counsellor at the Asian affairs department of China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, also said in Beijing that the term debt trap is one often used by western countries to criticise China.
“Of course, some western countries blame China and they criticise us by using words like ‘debt trap’,’’ Mr Chen said, noting China’s experience in financing infrastructure projects. “If you want to have development, especially through infrastructure, then you need big investments and [you need to] borrow money to build your infrastructure.
San Chey, executive director of Affiliated Network for Social Accountability Cambodia, yesterday said that if Chinese nationals do not cause much trouble in the Kingdom, then there will not be any security concerns.
“I think that when there is an influx of Chinese nationals and if they respect Cambodian laws, the rights of Cambodians and the traditions and culture of the Kingdom, then there will not be any worry about their being in the country,” he said.
“The latest cause for concern is the building collapse caused by illegal construction,” Mr Chey added.