A surge in Chinese investment and in the numbers of migrant workers in Cambodia’s port city of Sihanoukville has left local beaches polluted and Cambodian residents struggling to meet higher prices as the cost of living rises, Cambodian sources say.
Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service on Wednesday, Muong Sony—a youth leader in the Khmer Student Intelligent League Association—said following a recent visit that conditions in the city have declined dramatically over the last year.
“The situation in this area has now changed a lot,” he said.
“I visited four beaches and saw pollution and poor sanitation everywhere. There were no garbage containers on hand, and plastic bags were everywhere, along with a flow of foul-smelling sewage.”
Trash now piles up not only on the beaches, but on the city streets as well, he said.
The presence in the city of over 100,000 Chinese nationals, many of them workers brought in from China as Chinese firms set up casinos or operate power plants and offshore oil platforms in the area, has only made matters worse, Muong Sony said.
“I was told by several local residents that most of the Chinese coming to the area are not educated,” he said.
“Many of them were formerly convicted of crimes and were freed from prisons in China, or have bad backgrounds of other kinds. So they just throw trash anywhere they want, and some have even caused security problems in the area too.”
Prices climb higher
Traffic police now try mainly to stop Chinese nationals who break the traffic laws, because they will get more money from the Chinese than from Cambodians, Muong Son said.
“And many Chinese have bought local shops and run them on their own, making the prices of products rise too high for local people to pay,” he said, adding that many of the city’s new Chinese residents take jobs from Cambodians.
“My impression is that China wants to control the city and make it their own economic zone,” he said. “They are building skyscrapers in order to turn the city into a Chinese town in Cambodia.”
Also speaking to RFA, fellow Association member Soeun Piseth voiced his own concern over the influx of Chinese nationals and businesses into the city.
“The Chinese are causing a lot of trouble for Cambodians in the area. They are completely destroying the environment in this coastal city,” he said.
As the world’s second-largest economic power, China sees Cambodia as a source of benefit only for itself, Souen Pisoth said.
“I urge local authorities to enforce the city’s laws and regulations and to better manage the Chinese presence here,” he said.
Decline in tourism
Meanwhile, an Oct. 10 report by Cambodia’s Ministry of Tourism has pointed to a sharp decline in the numbers of tourists visiting Sihanoukville during the final days of the country’s annual Pchum Ben Festival, blaming the fall-off on poor infrastructure in the area.
Security concerns focusing on the growing Chinese presence in the traditionally popular tourist destination are more likely to blame, though, Network for Social Accountability President San Chey said.
“Chinese have even been involved in shooting sprees,” San Chey said, speaking to RFA.
In September, outgoing Chinese ambassador to Cambodia Xiong Bo acknowledged the climbing rates of crime among Chinese living in Cambodia—including drug and sex trafficking and online or telephone scams—and thanked Cambodian authorities for helping to crack down, according to a Sept. 28 report in the Khmer Times.