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Western-aligned opposition forces in Cambodia exaggerate anti-China sentiment

Huang Lanlan, Li Qiao and Hu Yuwei / Global Times Share:
ta keo temple
The Ta Keo Temple sits in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Chinese government aids with the conservation and restoration project of the ancient temple. Shan Jie/GT

While some Cambodians feel antipathy toward illegal behaviors of some Chinese, there is no widespread Sinophobia. Western forces are working with Cambodian opposition forces to attack both its local government and China, experts said.

Local Cambodians applaud Chinese investment to improve their wellbeing though saying illegal gambling and other crimes by some Chinese cause concerns.

Widespread anti-Chinese sentiment in Cambodia was denied by both its citizens and Chinese entrepreneurs living there whom were reached by the Global Times. This contradicts Western media narratives suggesting the influx of Chinese people and money has dissatisfied Cambodians. It also calls into question Western NGO’s claims that Chinese disregard the law, human rights, and the environment in Cambodia.

As part of the Belt and Road Initiative, China has increased its investment in Cambodia in recent years, as the Southeast Asian country is seen as a strategic fulcrum for the initiative. The growing interaction between two countries has drawn global attention, prompting some Western media to amplify the rift between the two peoples.

The increase of Chinese tourists has boosted Cambodia’s local economy and greatly promoted employment, a development recognized and applauded by Cambodians reached by the Global Times.

However, as Chinese investment flows in, especially into real estate, the opposition and pro-US forces have exploited and fanned national sentiment, leading some to believe that China is in economic and social control of the Southeast Asian country, Zhuang Guotu, a professor at the research school for Southeast Asian Studies at Xiamen University, told the Global Times.

Chinese experts object to some political forces in Cambodia using the issue as political capital to play up national sentiment against Chinese.

Many benefits

In 2017, China officially became Cambodia’s largest source of international tourists, the People’s Daily reported. The Cambodian government aims to receive 7.5 million international tourists in 2020. Cambodia’s long-term plan is to attract 15 million international tourists and create two million jobs by 2030, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

Su Shan, a Cambodian working in the tourism business, told the Global Times that they welcome Chinese tourists to Siem Reap as their arrival can bring many job opportunities for the city’s residents.

The economy in Phnom Penh has experienced a similar boom as Chinese invest in skyscrapers, shopping malls and high-end residential compounds built, a Chinese entrepreneur surnamed Fu told the Global Times. Fu participates in Chinese-invested road construction projects in Phnom Penh.

Under the Belt and Road Initiative, Chinese investors are building Cambodia’s first-ever expressway. The 190-kilometer Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville expressway was launched in March 2019 with assistance from Fu’s company. The expressway is expected to significantly shorten driving time between the two cities from five to less than two hours once it’s operational. The project’s construction is expected to create 10,000 jobs, Xinhua reported.
Cambodians acknowledge China’s economic contributions, but some worry about security risks and economic concerns given reports of street crimes and land grabs linked to some Chinese.

Sokunthea Hang, a Cambodian, told the Global Times that inflated house prices in some cities like Sihanoukville is a key driver of residents’ negative sentiment regarding Chinese businesses in Cambodia.

The Ta Keo Temple sits in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Chinese government aids with the conservation and restoration project of the ancient temple. Photos: Shan Jie/GT

“The influx of Chinese businesses and vendors did push up property prices. Properties in prime locations and commercial areas are unaffordable for ordinary people, and some properties rent shops only to Chinese merchants, leaving many local vendors and small business owners with no good places to rent. It is a trouble for Cambodia in three major cities like Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville,” Sokunthea told the Global Times.

A VOA report claimed that Cambodians suffer from “soaring commodity prices, building collapses, gambling, defraud, robberies and even frequent shooting accidents on streets” caused by Chinese.

Cot Hemchantha, a manager of a Taxi service company in Cambodia, told the Global Times that he can see some of the social problems that VOA exposed, but he doesn’t think Chinese should be the scapegoat for all of them, as Cambodians may get involved in these problems as well.

Zhuang told the Global Times that some living by Sihanoukville indeed feel antipathy toward illegal behavior of some Chinese, but there has been no widespread anti-Chinese sentiment, especially when China has been making efforts to work with Cambodian police to crackdown on the illegal behavior of Chinese nationals.

Coordinated fight on cross-border crimes

In May 2018, Cambodia also expelled 70 Chinese suspected of running online gambling, according to the Cambodia China Times, a media outlet catering to Chinese Cambodians.

“Local authority didn’t only target Chinese but all those who broke the law,” the Chinese entrepreneur Fu said.

In the early 1990s, the Cambodia government struck a deal legalizing casinos in some cities, China Times of Cambodia reported, saying the deal attracted many Chinese to be both casino-runners and consumers.

Xiong Bo, former Chinese ambassador to Cambodia, once openly criticized Chinese nationals who committed crimes in Cambodia in a media interview on July 25, 2018, saying their criminal acts had caused concerns among local people. Xiong asserted the Chinese government’s stance on supporting Cambodian’s crackdown on gambling.

But Xiong denied some media’s accusation of “Chinese enterprises money laundering via casinos,” calling those allegations “politicized, biased and distorted.”

Pro-Western political forces reference irregular or illegal business practices done only by a few Chinese business people to attack the Chinese government and accuse it of looting Cambodia’s resources, Zhuang suggested.
The Chinese and Cambodian governments have stood together in striking against criminality of Chinese nationals in illegal gambling, drug trafficking, human trafficking and telecom fraud. China has sent multiple groups of police officers to Cambodia for jointly cracking down on online crimes.

The Chinese government also applauded Cambodian’s adherence to the one-China principle in law enforcement procedure as it handed over suspects both from the mainland and Taiwan to the mainland authorities for handling.

From August 18 until September 7, there were about 140,000 departures of Chinese nationals recorded, following a government ban on online gambling intended to reduce the number of crimes committed by foreigners, Khmar Times, Cambodian’s mainstream English newspaper, reported in September 2019.

Information warfare

Though China and Cambodian have long maintained close ties in many industries, some political forces keep hyping up the hostile voices of Cambodians against the Chinese.

The Mumbai-based Economics Times once reported that China’s influence has become a major issue for the Cambodian opposition party.

China has become Cambodia’s largest investor, donor, and creditor. Many Cambodians worry that the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative and the Cambodian government’s growing links to Beijing will make the country a vassal of China, the report said.
“Since Donald Trump came to power, the US has made many attacks on China’s social system and ideology. Southeast Asia is a political arena of great power play. So the US is also colluding with the Cambodian opposition forces to attack the pro-China national government and China,” Zhuang told the Global Times.

Often talking with locals while in Cambodia, Fu said he hasn’t felt fear or hostility toward Chinese. “Generally they are friendly to us,” he added.

Instead of overly linking Chinese-invested projects with politics, Fu said ordinary Cambodians focus more on the benefits these projects have brought to their daily lives.

Fu said the claim that “Chinese [investors] only care about their own interests” being quoted by VOA didn’t tally with the facts.

Chinese companies help improve Cambodia’s infrastructure and employment rate, he said, adding that his company also creates jobs.

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