Easy Highway, Troubled City: How China Wins and Loses Cambodians’ Hearts

Two China-driven projects show striking contrasts. The newly opened Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville Expressway has been well-received by Cambodians. But grand plans for Sihanoukville to be an investment hub and “multi-purpose” city have instead seen Chinese businesses crowding out locals, a boom-bust cycle in construction and illicit trades.

What kind of Chinese investment may win over Cambodians’ hearts? The benefits and costs, and public reception of two landmark projects are revealing. People appear enthused to use a new expressway but uneasy about economic change in the road’s terminal point, the city of Sihanoukville.

Cambodia has heartily embraced the first expressway linking the capital of Phnom Penh to the coastal province of Preah Sihanouk since it was opened to the public for a one-month free trial in early October. The 187km, US$2 billion Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville Expressway is a signature Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project undertaken by the China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC), which borrowed from various Chinese development banks.

By mid-October, about 200,000 vehicles had travelled on the thoroughfare. Local media have reported welcoming, positive responses from motorists who were content with the convenience, efficiency and safety of the road. This author drove from Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh and has to admit that he shares the gratification. The expressway reduces the travelling time to two hours from five hours on the congested National Road 4. In the first two weeks of operation, only six accidents were recorded on the expressway (an accident rate of 0.004 per cent), with no injury or death.

In full: https://fulcrum.sg/easy-highway-troubled-city-how-china-wins-and-loses-cambodians-hearts/

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