The future of Cambodia’s economy, as Tekreth Samrach, chairman of the government-controlled flagship airline, sees it, is in tourism. And thanks to China, tourism, like many sectors in the economy, is surging. “To be frank, everyone goes to China to make money,” he says from his office decked with pilot caps and model planes. “So we have to go to China to make money, too.”
Following that logic, the government appears to be making a sharp break from its long-standing partnership with French infrastructure conglomerate Vinci. It’s drafting plans and starting work on two new airports backed by mainland money, despite granting an exclusive, 45-year concession on international airports to a company majority-owned by Vinci. That concession isn’t supposed to end until 2040. The government’s move is meant to address the rapid rise in tourism, but it also reflects Cambodia’s increasingly enthusiastic embrace of booming Chinese investment.