How ‘new’ Chinese revived an ‘old’ ethnic dominance in Cambodia’s economy

Chinese ‘old’ and ‘new’ keep the economy of Hun Sen’s Cambodia humming. But investment by Beijing has also entrenched the patronage system and given rise to anti-Chinese sentiment.

Ever since the state visit of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen to Beijing in 1996, ties between Cambodia and China – or, more accurately, between Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party and the Chinese Communist Party – have grown only stronger.

Political interdependencies have emerged alongside the influx of Chinese investments, businesses and economic migrants in Cambodia since the 1990s. The majority of Cambodia’s garment factories, which account for more than three quarters of total exports, are owned and managed by Chinese from mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. China is the biggest investor in Cambodia, adding nearly US$5.3 billion to the economy between 2013 and 2017. Officials hope that annual bilateral trade between the two countries will reach US$10 billion in 2023.

In all, with Chinese investors, traders, service entrepreneurs, factory managers, tourists, diplomats, teachers, journalists and subcontractors flocking to Cambodia, China’s influence over economic and political affairs in the small Southeast Asian country is undisputed.

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