WITH China pouring in billions worth of investments and aid to Cambodia in recent years, critics have warned against the superpowers growing influence on the Southeast Asian country’s domestic policies.
However, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen brushed aside claims that China was “invading” his country, saying the argument was “crazy”.
Addressing the reported influx of Chinese migrants in Cambodia, especially in the Preah Sihanouk province, Hun Sen said the issue was due to a shortage in the construction labour market, according to the Phnom Penh Post.
“There are a lot of construction projects [in Cambodia], but we don’t have enough skilled workers, therefore we have to bring [the Chinese] in to build our bridges and help with many other projects,” Hun Sen told the Cambodian diaspora in Geneva, Switzerland recently.
“When they finish their work, they will return to their home country. So don’t question … we don’t have any law that allows them to stay, after all.”
Hun Sen suggested the perception of the “invasion” was also due to the high number of Chinese tourists visiting the country – last year, Cambodia saw 1.2 million Chinese tourists and the government believes the figure would grow to 1.5 million this year.
“And talking about China invading Cambodia … isn’t there Chinatown in France? Yes! Chinatown in the US? Yes! Even Cambodia has no Chinatown,” he said.
The leader also pointed to possible xenophobia against Chinese nationals, as opposition politicians have blamed the Chinese for various crimes, claiming they posed a serious risk to the Southeast Asian country.
“When [the Chinese] don’t come to invest, [the opposition] would talk. When they come to invest, [the opposition] say they came to invade Cambodia … What’s wrong with these people? Crazy!
“We are a sovereign state. China has never even sent their troops beyond their borders. How many times have other countries sent their troops to invade Cambodia?”
Sok Phal, the Department of Immigration director-general said there were about 210,000 Chinese nationals living in Cambodia, of which 70,000 live in Preah Sihanouk province alone.
However, critics have called on the government to ensure immigration laws were fully enforced in wake of the purported rising number of crimes committed by Chinese nationals.
In July, Reuters reported that China has lent Cambodia US$259 million to build a 47km city ring road Phnom Penh in another indication of stronger ties that goes back 60 years.
The Southeast Asian country has also received billions through bilateral frameworks and China’s Belt and Road Initiative to build a New Silk Road, attracting a slew of Chinese commercial ventures, which includes casinos and special economic zones.