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Protests in Vietnam Could Shift Chinese Investment to Cambodia

A protester gestures as he marches during an anti-China protest in Vietnam's southern Ho Chi Minh city, May 18, 2014.
A protester gestures as he marches during an anti-China protest in Vietnam's southern Ho Chi Minh city, May 18, 2014.
Cambodia could benefit economically from anti-Chinese protests in Vietnam, experts say.

Some 1,500 Chinese have fled Vietnam in the past week, following demonstrations by protesters angered by Chinese oil exploration in the contentious South China Sea.

At least 15 factories in Vietnam were attacked.

It has not hurt trade relations with either country, but it could mean more Chinese investment, Ken Ratha, a spokesman for the Ministry of Commerce, said. “Especially those who have already invested in Vietnam.”

Cheng Hong Bo, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy, said some investors who fled the country could stay in Cambodia, but he also said some have already returned to Vietnam.

Cambodia’s history is deeply intertwined with both nations, including during the Khmer Rouge period, when Cambodian communists received help from both at different times.

Today, both are major trade partners, while China is a major provider of aid, second only to Japan.

Trade between Cambodia and Vietnam reached $3.43 billion in 2013. Between Cambodia and China, that figure was about $3 billion.

Vietnamese tourists ranked first in 2013, with 850,000, followed by Chinese, at 460,000.

“Tourism from China has not been affected yet, as they travel by air, as do tourists from Vietnam,” Tourism Minister Thong Khon said. “But we are closely observing whether tourists who transit through Vietnam are declining.”

Politically, both communist countries retain close ties to Cambodia, at a critical time, when the current government is under pressure from the opposition and the West to continue democratic reforms.

The ruling Cambodian People’s Party needs both to stay in power, said Chheang Vannarith, a lecturer at the University of Leeds in London. The ongoing dispute “affects the political climate in Cambodia,” particularly between camps that are closer to either Hanoi or Beijing, he said.

Koy Kuong, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said both sides were “friends.” “Cambodia hopes any problem will be resolved peacefully,” he said. “We remain neutral.”