Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday downplayed concerns over the apparent growing influence of Chinese organized crime groups in Cambodia.
In a speech to hundreds of students in Phnom Penh, Hun Sen dismissed the concerns of the provincial governor, Yun Min, who last week said that the crime rate in the province was increasing, in part due to an influx of “Chinese mafia [who] disguise themselves to commit various crimes and kidnap Chinese investors” and were “causing insecurity in the province”.
Hun Sen said Cambodia needed the Chinese workers referred to by Min due to a lack of “human resources”.
China is Cambodia’s largest donor and lender. According to the Economist magazine, Chinese firms offered Cambodia nearly $5 billion in loans and investment between 2011 and 2015, accounting for more than two thirds of industrial development in the country.
Cambodia has also received political support from Beijing as it carries out a crackdown on opposition forces, including the prosecution of opposition leader Kem Sokha and the dissolution of his party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party.
In Sihanoukville, also a popular destination for Russian businessmen, a construction boom has seen numerous casinos, hotels and other entertainment venues open to cater to Chinese visitors.
Taing Sochet Kresna, director of the Preah SIhanouk Provincial Tourism Department, said about 125,000 Chinese tourists visited the province last year, an increase of about 130 percent.
He said the authorities were attempting to meet demand, which required a large workforce. “We have to know the needs of the Chinese tourists. They need hotels, at least three stars and up to four or five star standard. They need standardized Chinese restaurants,” he said.
Nget Chou, a senior economics adviser at a consultancy in Phnom Penh, said the rapid influx of Chinese workers into the province had led to “unpredictable” effects. “The government should take action to implement strict laws,” he said, “and also to ensure that we can receive national revenue from the investment.”
Min, the governor, said he was seeking to protect the security of tourists and Cambodians alike. “I can’t say if Chinese tourists are bad and European tourists are good since they come to enjoy themselves. We have to welcome all tourists,” he said.
“Every nation has good and bad people. They are not all good or all bad,” he added.
Ho Vandy, an adviser to the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents (CATA), said the local tourism industry had seen little benefit from Chinese tourism so far, adding that the government must implement a strategy to maximize the benefit from the wave of investment.
“In case of a rapid increase of tourists we must have master plan to curb the impacts... But if we don’t have a master plan, it will affect the environment and local business,” he said.
“But we want to have cooperation with each other. If they come to do investment, we want local people to provide the services so that there is true poverty reduction in the community,” he added.