ㄑ Belt and Road ㄑ Opinion

China's BRI has huge socio-economic impact on Cambodia, says Cambodian scholar

Xinhua | October 11, 2023

Ten years on, China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has had a tremendous impact on Cambodia, injecting strong momentum into the kingdom's development of infrastructure, trade and economy, a Cambodian scholar said on Tuesday.

Seun Sam, a policy analyst at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said BRI projects invested or aided by China have been turning Cambodia into a key hub for trade and connectivity in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

"Cambodia is one of the countries that has seen the greatest impact of the BRI on its infrastructure, trade, economy and cultural landscape," he told Xinhua. "China's investments in Cambodia have catalyzed a significant transformation of its infrastructure."

Under the BRI, he said, roads, bridges, expressways, hydropower plants, seaports, airports and special economic zones have been built, facilitating economic and trade activities and efficient transportation of goods and movement of people within and beyond Cambodia's borders.

"These projects have significantly improved Cambodia's connectivity with the region, facilitating trade and attracting foreign direct investment (FDIs) while boosting Cambodia's economic growth and creating job opportunities for its people," Sam said.

He added that China's investment in energy infrastructure has helped reduce Cambodia's power shortages and fostered its sustainable development.

"The construction of hydropower plants, solar panel farms and power transmission networks has increased the country's energy production capacity and alleviated its dependence on costly imported energy sources," he said.

He said one of the most impressive outcomes of the BRI projects in Cambodia is the Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone (SSEZ), which has attracted FDIs and boosted Cambodia's manufacturing sector, leading to employment creation and increased exports.

The 11-square-km SSEZ has so far accommodated some 175 companies from China, the United States, Europe, Southeast Asia and other regions, generating nearly 30,000 jobs, according to the zone's operator.

Sam said investments in Cambodia under the BRI have also stimulated the construction and real estate sectors, leading to the development of modern residential and commercial properties across the Southeast Asian country.

"Despite slowing down during the COVID-19 pandemic, the construction sector remains a key employment generator, boosting incomes, improving living standards, reducing poverty and underpinning socioeconomic development," he said.

He added that thanks to the improvement in infrastructure connectivity, the country's rich cultural heritage and historical sites have become more accessible to tourists, with the influx of tourists generating significant revenue and providing new economic opportunities for local communities.

Apart from these, Chinese investments in the agricultural sector have helped modernize farming and improve productivity, and have had a positive impact on Cambodia's agricultural exports, benefiting local farmers and boosting the country's processing and packaging sectors, he said.

"In sum, the BRI has provided enormous benefits to Cambodia, injecting vigorous impetus into building a high-quality, high-level and high-standard Cambodia-China community with a shared future," he said.

BRI, a reference to the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, was initiated by China in 2013 to build trade and infrastructure networks connecting Asia with Europe and Africa on and beyond the ancient Silk Road trade routes.