The Kingdom’s coastal Sihanoukville, where Chinese nationals national dominated nearly a half of businesses before the COVID-19 outbreak, is seeing economic activity gradually rebound after Middle Kingdom’s investors and workers started to return to the province as pandemic fears ease.
Preah Sihanouk provincial hall spokesman Kheang Phearum told Khmer Times that Since May 23 up to yesterday, 1,066 Chinese nationals arrived in the province on direct flights.
He said most of them are investors, company executives and ordinary workers.
“We are expecting that the more business and investment we have, the more we will see economic growth,” he said, adding that while some construction building still continues, some remains stalled by COVID-19.
“Now we don’t have any mandate to ban entry so they have returned because of less fear of Coronavirus. When the virus is under control and the project owner returns, we hope that business activity will back to normal – and that will be very shortly.”
According to Phearum, Chinese national in Sihanoukville have invested in the tourism sector, casinos, construction, services and manufacturing.
According to Preah Sihanouk Provincial Governor Kuoch Chamroeun, half of Sihanoukville residents were Chinese before the COVID-19 outbreak and now only 15,000 Chinese nationals live in the city. In 2019, the total population was 80,000 and the number of Chinese was about half of that.
He said the province has attracted construction project investment valued at more than $7 billion over the last four years – mostly from Chinese nationals.
Thousands of Chinese left after a directive banning all online and arcade gambling in the Kingdom last August and it took effect from Jan 1.
Phearum said that the government’s action to close online gambling was good for national security but it affected people who had property for rent to the Chinese.
“But the impact is just a short-term issue and the effect of COVID-19 caused a strong decline in business, leaving properties unrented as many Chinese returned home,” he said. “I would like to question that between COVID-19 and closing online gambling which one had the most impact? It is true that it was COVID-19 not online gambling.”
Lim Heng, vice-president of the Cambodia Chamber of Commerce (CCC), said that most Chinese nationals are returning to Sihanoukville after fears of the pandemic declined. He said they are investors and staff.
“However, those who want online gambling will not come because we have already closed the businesses.”
He added that the province is enjoying a second phase with stable and sustainable growth.
“I believe that there will be a slow growth but with stability, safety, sustainability and security which is not like the online gambling business. In this phase the growth will be in the industry sector because we have more special economic zones established in the province,” he said.
Heng believes the Chinese will be attracted first while investment from other countries will come later. “Sihanoukville will be the same as Hong Kong – a region that attract investors from around the world, not just Chinese,” he said.