After Sihanoukville: When a Belt and Road sideshow closes up shop

After several years of booming construction and rising foreign investment, the hot streak for the Cambodian beach town of Sihanoukville has gone cold. In late December, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen announced a permanent ban on online gambling, leaving thousands of Cambodian workers jobless.

Sihanoukville’s new developments, from hotels to restaurants and infrastructure projects, have been built on Chinese demand, which is married to the casino industry. Gambling is illegal in China, apart from Macau, and while the Cambodian government bars its citizens from gambling, foreign nationals had been permitted to gamble online, until last year.

Chinese interest in Sihanoukville has also been driven by the city’s role in Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which promises investment in infrastructure and further economic integration. Hun Sen’s new ban suggests that the Cambodian state desires more control over runaway development—aiming to keep the highways, airports and economic zones, but drop the casinos.

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