Expats and locals in Cambodia fear total Chinese takeover

Expats and locals in Cambodia fear total Chinese takeover

Expats and locals in Cambodia fear total Chinese takeover

As China continues its encroachment into Cambodia, expats as well as locals are beginning to fear the end result.

Ten years or so ago, the charms of Cambodia were a well-kept secret, with few expats aware enough to take a chance on its possibilities as a long-term, inexpensive haven away from hordes of tourists. Gradually, the news got around, with Sihanoukville and Siem Reap with its magnificent Angkor Wat complex both acquiring growing expat communities fascinated with the laid-back culture and genuinely friendly locals. Unfortunately, Cambodia’s massive, authoritarian northern neighbour also realised its potential as part of its belt and road initiative.

Fast forward to the past few years and the former favourite summer retreat town of Sihanoukville saw a Chinese invasion of developers, speculators and those in it for a quick buck, during which local businesses were taken over, land was bought, the town’s deepwater port was scheduled for development and dozens of casinos were erected. At first, the locals couldn’t believe their luck when property prices rose and continued to rise, encouraging former townspeople to move to the edges of town or to local villages. Crime rose, and the streets were no longer safe at night and, eventually, the expat community took the sensible option of decamping to quieter locations such as Kampot or Kep.

China is now investing billions in the country’s economy, and increasing numbers of Cambodians are beginning to see the dark side of the picture – crime, corruption and, worst of all, colonial ambition. There are now 200,000 Chinese living in Cambodia legally, and the numbers of illegals are vast. Basically, from Siem Reap through Sihanoukville to the smaller coastal towns, Chinese are moving in and taking local jobs. Land prices are soaring due to Chinese investors, but very few major developments are being completed.

Until recently, Cambodia’s straightforward immigration and work visa requirements made it a popular destination for Western expats fleeing the ever-more unfriendly immigration rules imposed by neighbouring Thailand. Before the Chinese invasion of Sihanoukville began, a good number had chosen the resort town as their next home from home for its affordability and attractive beachside setting. Many are now regretting their choice.

The worst news is that Siem Reap seems to be the next destination for a full Chinese takeover due to its immense appeal for tourists heading for the Angkor Wat temple site just a few kilometres from town. Already, the town has given over the construction of its new airport to Chinese developers, with adjacent land now purchased and intended for a Chinatown, and properties in the town are being bought and left undeveloped.

Expats with an interest in world history as it relates to China might well remember the invasion of Tibet in 1950, which resulted in its unique culture and traditions being trashed by the military and most of its architectural treasures destroyed. Should the rape of Cambodia continue, where next for its expat residents?

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