It’s been several years now that Cambodia has been receiving billions of dollars in Chinese investment as part of China’s Belt & Road initiative (BRI). And in between 2016 and 2019, the two countries signed 65 cooperation agreements to finance infrastructure projects.
While these investments have contributed to the development of the country and Sihanoukville in particular, negative impacts on the local population and communities have resulted from corruption and other factors.
Sihanoukville is viewed as a strategic location and home to the only deep seaport in the country. It was a sleepy beach town that catered mainly to western backpackers, until the last few years it has been the focus of Chinese foreign direct and private investment led by the real estate developer and casino resort construction.
In the year of 2017, Sihanoukville added 120,000 tourists and 78,000 permanent residents from China – unsettling numbers, given that the province’s total population is only 150,000. This huge migration of Chinese nationals upended the economic and social fabric of the local communities, leading to negative impacts that will last quite a long time.
Huge demand for land causes prices to skyrocket, and as a result, most poor and lower-middle-income Cambodians have been priced out of their homes and neighborhoods.
However, china’s recent investment in Cambodia somehow has worsened these conditions, with rents and land prices tripling or quadrupling, and in some cases even multiplied by 10.
Although the influx of Chinese tourists and investment has contributed to the development of the province, the wealth generated is generally kept within their own communities.
But then came Covid-19 and with it lockdowns and closures of non-essential businesses, including casinos. It is estimated that 80-90% of Chinese nationals living and working in Sihanoukville have left, turning it into a ghost town.
Plenty of the remaining Cambodians who managed to keep their businesses afloat, by adapting to Chinese demand, are now unemployed, in debt, or bankrupt.
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